Roots to Ramble On
Tin and the Toad
I was floored when I saw Tin and the Toad live for the first time. Never before had I encountered a band with such chemistry onstage: this is a group that sings in four-part harmony all the time. Perhaps the chemistry should be expected: buddies Cody Shearer and Justin Smith have been singing together for years, dabbling in rock before they turned to country. Somewhere along the way, they picked up Steve Loree (Ian Tyson, Jr Gone Wild) and Pete Loughlin (Dave McCann). As such, the group’s appeal rests not only on the members’ sharp musicianship and carefully crafted songs, but also on the fact that the two “elders” joined with younger newcomers Shearer and Smith. Smith’s tough Waylon Jennings-like delivery is measured by Shearer’s boyish enthusiasm, and Loree and Loughlin punctuate their dynamic with hilarious onstage banter.
This energy runs the risk of being lost in the recording, but the band managed to avoid that trap on Roots to Ramble On. Joined by Shearer’s brother Ryan on drums, Tin and the Toad have brought their magic into the recordings. Songs like Hwy 23 critique the city and celebrate the pace of rural life, while others like The Crossing Place adopt a laid-back groove that eases up to highlight the group’s complex harmonies. One of my favourites is Crocuses and Buffalo Beans; the melody of the title phrase sticks in my head days after hearing it.
All four singers, most residing in small-town Alberta, have writing credits on the album, with songs that pay homage to their prairie surroundings. Prairie sensibility extends further to the obvious community spirit that governs other aspects of the album’s production: it was recorded at the Crabapple Downs Studio in Nanton; the group hired Dave McCann for graphic design; and the artwork is all that of Vulcan painter/singer Steve Coffey. Says the band of their choice of Coffey: “We wanted something to portray our deep prairie roots … but also the organic approach to the way we put music together”; Coffey’s art suggested “the prairie environment that has shaped our view of the world.”
Indeed it has, this is prairie music at its best.