A friend of mine asked me to listen to a demo recorded by his son-in-law. He wanted only feedback he could pass on, and I promised to respond.
Included was a CD EP by the duo of Caden Knudson and the son-in-law, Aaron Connaughton, and a live compilation of different performers who had appeared at a weekly open mic night at Maple Ridge’s Kanaka Creek Restaurant, Come Hear The Music Play.

When listening to demos, there is a tendency to think either like an A&R guy, the person who listens for commercial potential if his label were to sign the act, or a producer, who asks what is the best way to handle this material, speed it up, slow it down, record live or piecemeal or….

Probably, the best way to listen is not to make those kinds of projections but just hear what’s there. Hard, though, not to be A&R or producer if asked to pick out the strongest songs or name the act’s appeal.

I think the act or the demo is called The Good, The Bad And The Banjo. Similarly, song titles or any credits are not listed. A lot of guess work is required.

It’s vocal (with occasional support), acoustic guitar, bass and, of course, banjo. Yep, various styles of folk with discernible but not obvious rock and blues elements. The over all mood is established right away by the first song  and I couldn’t help being reminded of The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, that kind of amalgamation of folk-rock, which might be the way to go.

In fact, there might be too much banjo. It’s the foundation of the sound but by the third song, the banjo becomes predictable if not tiresome. Maybe it needs more imaginative applications, maybe to be more effective, it needs to be used less rather than slavishly. One of the most effective tracks is number seven where a repetitive acoustic guitar line dominates, Track two’s moody edginess suggests there is a darker, heavier side to the band.

Knudson impresses as more confident on the EP, Professional Men Of Music. That title alone indicates the humour that is part of the duo’s foundation. Knudson’s lyrics reveal wit and fluency. Take Me Home has a kind of blue collar poetry that is wonderful  while Get In Line is both wisely observant and funny.

Take Me Home  appears on Come Here The Music Play and possibly indicates  what The Good, The Bad And The Banjo might be aiming for. It’s a fuller sound, and lively, which is what you’d expect, but an ensemble recorded live in the studio, provided by Shades Of Green,. might bristle with spontaneity.

It is a folksy/rootsy selection of 13 acts and like any compilation, you’ll have your favourites. At the moment, mine are Music Mind, Summerswing, Waikiki, New Day and, of course, Take Me Home. That could change depending on my mood.

Such compilations are more idealistic than an easy sell. That Kanaka Open Mic Night has been running since 2009 should be applauded. It seems like an honourable pursuit.