Being a native of the "Hog Butcher For The World" (Chicago), I was intrigued to learn from this disc's liner notes that, in years past, Toronto boasted (or suffered) a similar nickname, Hogtown, thanks to their oncethriving slaughterhouse scene. Had I read the notes before listening to the album, I might suspect my positive reaction was colored by this tidbit, but nope, it's all about the music.
The Foggy Hogtown Boys is a quintet of bluegrassin' Torontoans that bring diverse backgrounds to their vision of traditional bluegrass, playing primarily original songs that manage to remain conventional without lapsing into clich≥s. Six are written by guitarist/singer Chris Coole, with "Head On Down The Road" a standout. That tune also encompasses much of what makes the FHB's instrumental profile so distinctive. Their vocals are solid, but listening to the band lay down a fat, rolling groove behind fiddler John Showman's exhilarating break is what got this reviewer most excited.
Four of the thirteen cuts are original instrumentals, three composed or cowritten by Showman or mandolinist Andrew Collins, and though it doesn't get too wild, Collins' "Suffering Succotash" hints at his and Showman's progressive side that they express fully as half of the fine avantgrass group, the Creaking Tree String Quartet. Banjoist Chris Quinn's "Murray's Breakdown" spotlights his dazzling picking, and bassist/singer John McNaughton keeps the bottom moving with fleet fingers and a plump tone.
One of the three nonoriginals is Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" that receives a powerful, darkhued performance, and maintains the Canadian identity of this project, Lightfoot being a fellow Ontarioan (if that's the proper word...if not, it's still fun to say).
Northern White Clouds (nope, Bill Monroe's instrumental is not on the album) is fine stuff that should appeal to traditional bluegrassers and as well as the newgrasser whose taste stretches back to the years BSB (Before Sam Bush). (Foggy Hogtown Boys, P.O. Box 97037, Toronto, Ont., Canada M6R 3B3; www.foggyhogtownboys.com.)DR [David Royko]