“These guys can propel a room full of roots enthusiasts. Expect down-home melodies, unusual percussion (everything from the slinky to the singing saw), and the occasional hoedown.”
- Martini Boys
Take a tuneful, twangy local boy with a rock pedigree, add a saw-slingin’ punk legend and a bass-thumping cowboy boot maker to the stars. Mix it up with a gorgeous and gifted fiddle player and a rising keyboard star, and you’ve got the earthy folk-roots outfit Rattlesnake Choir.
The no-frills Toronto quintet – which just released its second CD – wasn't created so much as it converged, coming together in 2006 as an extension of John Borra and Sam “Screamin’ Sam” Ferrara's popular weekly watering-hole gig at the Communist’s Daughter.
“This whole thing has been incredibly organic,” Borra says. “Friends were playing at a local bar and asked Sam and I to come join them. The bar liked it and wanted a weekly gig. That's when we opted to expand.”
Veteran local musicians Tony Benattar (bass, dobro), Miranda Mulholland (violin) and Michael Boguski (piano, accordion) signed on and Rattlesnake Choir was complete.
The band’s collective back pages read like a who’s who of Canadian music: The Ugly, A Neon Rome, Viletones, Change Of Heart, The Mahones, Groovy Religion, Blue Rodeo, Ron Sexsmith, Luther Wright, The Cash Brothers, Serena Ryder, The Cameron Family Singers, The Beauties and more.
Working from a collection of tunes penned by Borra, their 2008 debut CD, Live Music, was recorded live off the floor to half-inch 2-track tape at Pucks Farm by Walter Sobczak.
“The sparse feel keeps the emphasis on Borra's convincingly earthy vocals and songs, and the recording process adds to the warm and intimate ambience,” wrote Exclaim magazine. “This is a disc worthy of exposure beyond the Toronto roots scene.”
Their new CD, Walkin’ The Wire (Cousin Jeb Records), uses the same old-school technology, Ferrara says. “Walkin’ The Wire was done in an analogue studio so we used tape, not computers,” he says. “Other than adding a few embellishments, we recorded live again and mixed without altering any major elements.”
“Everyone up until the ’60s recorded that way,” says Borra. “There’s a tangible purity in that music you can still hear today; the capturing of a song or group of songs and emotions at that particular moment in time. It’s real.”
The new album - recorded in two days - features a dozen songs with the emphasis on Borra's smart, country-themed originals. These sit comfortably beside a couple of instrumentals that veer from bluegrass to garage/classical. Miranda takes a turn at the mic on a Jenny Whiteley song and Ugly fans are treated to Sam singing his original "Wastin' My Time".
The Rattlesnake Choir has had the pleasure of playing shows with Blue Rodeo, Broken Social Scene and Lee Harvey Osmond as well as appearing on an episode of The Dakota Sessions for CMT. They can be found every Monday rocking the Dakota Tavern in downtown Toronto.