Famed American guitarist Ry Cooder, known for his interest in roots music and collaborations with traditional musicians from around the world, is given credit for having helped B.C.’s High Bar Gang receive a Juno Award nomination for their debut album, Lost and Undone.
Released this past October, the album (full title, Lost and Undone: A Gospel Bluegrass Companion) is in the running for the Contemporary Christian/Gospel Award at the end of March.
“Yeah, we snuck in there on ‘slash gospel,’” said Colin Nairne, acoustic guitar and mandolin player with the High Bar Gang. “But it’s all bluegrass music. You can’t play bluegrass without playing gospel. Lots of the songs are actually courtesy of our good friend Ry Cooder.”
According to Nairne, it was Cooder who suggested the group, consisting of Barney Bentall, Shari Ulrich, Angela Harris, Wendy Bird, Rob Becker and Eric Reed, consider showcasing those gospel aspects of bluegrass for their first CD.
“He would send me emails with no subject line… just a song title,” said Nairne, who originally formed the band in 2010 just so he could play his favourite bluegrass songs with a bunch of like-minded musicians. “It would be a Saturday at midnight and he would be sending me YouTube links of songs he thought we should play.”
Along with the Juno nod, the album is also doing well in places like Europe, especially in the U.K., where it received four-star reviews, according to Nairne.
“I’ve been quite surprised with how enthusiastically it’s been received in Europe,” he said.
But even before a Juno winner is announced, the band is already thinking about the follow-up album.
“The next one we are planning to do this summer, and we want to do the ‘cheating and hurting’ aspect of bluegrass,” said Nairne, who used to play in Bentall’s Legendary Hearts band, and now manages groups for a living, including his own High Bar Gang.
But he said there’s never any problem with both belonging to and managing the band.
“Everyone in the band is a seasoned professional to begin with,” he said. “And Shari Ulrich, who is one of the wisest people I know, said right at the beginning that we should always practice ‘instant forgiveness.’ Believe me, instant forgiveness works. We don’t play that many shows anyway with everyone’s individual schedules, but when we do, we’re happy to play together.”
You can catch the band happily playing together in one of their rare shows at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG) on Saturday (Feb. 22) at 8 p.m.
“We’ll be playing songs from the new album, and even some new material,” Nairne said. “It’s guaranteed to be a good time, and the Brackendale Art Gallery is such a unique and really magical place to perform.”
Tickets are $20 and available at the BAG or Xocolatl.
For more on the High Bar Gang, go to highbargang.com.