By Pat Moran | From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine
April Verch displays deep respect for her musical forebears, harboring a soft spot for raw, field-recorded fiddle tunes. The Canadian fiddler’s preference for the precursors of folk and country is amplified on Passages and Partings, a collaboration with her husband, multi-instrumentalist Cody Walters. The record is billed as the couple’s debut duo release, but Passages and Partings welcomes several guest artists to the party. Fiddler Betse Ellis performs a vertiginous pas de deux with Verch on the rugged instrumental “Jawbone,” where both fiddles spiral in a harmonizing waltz. Ellis returns, imbuing her fiddle with a wheezing concertina tone, on Verch’s composition “Sojourn.”
A handful of traditional tunes anchor the collection. Old-time chestnut “Ain’t Gonna Get No Supper Here Tonight” is rendered as a jaunty front porch shuffle with Walters’ buckboard banjo and Verch’s skittering fiddle. Hank Williams’ mournful “Mansion on the Hill” receives a lighter touch. Verch’s co-written “Up in the Ottawa Valley” is a dead ringer for a vintage country tune, except for Verch’s playfully subversive vocal. In her sweet soprano, Verch tempers winsome square-dance nostalgia with lyrics referencing the bottles of liquor everyone has stashed outside the dance hall.
Verch and Walters are not the only musical couple to play in this collection. Canadian acoustic duo Pharis & Jason Romero contribute to two tracks, both co-written by Verch—the winding, skirling title track and “Not to Fall,” a paean to personal determination: “Like the dirt that’s packed between the cracks/On the road to scattered dreams/My hold never wavers/I’m stronger than it seems.” Here, Verch and Walters lend poetic gravitas to a buoyant tune. The song feels modern, yet it still draws on one of Verch’s biggest inspirations, the proto-folk and country from before the dawn of the genre.