Listening to the opening notes of Rugged Little Thing’s self-titled debut, I was forced to evaluate my once-adamant opposition to the banjo. Its recent revival has swayed me—like many others, I hope—to appreciate its jaunty vibration and particular enunciation of notes.
But as the soon-to-be wed duo of Ryan Shotton and Jille Magnus launched into bluegrass classic “Black Eyed Suzie” I had to confront a bluegrass festival attendance years ago that was less than enthusiastic and realize how wrong—how terribly, terribly wrong—I’d been.
The pair state that they blend “together a perfect cocktail of Old Time, Bluegrass, and Folk Music that feels like home,” pulling from not just the classics but Canada’s own campfire and kitchen jam legacy. And that’s the familiarity they nail, luring you in through music you’ve known all your life but never shying away from being unabashedly rooted not just in comfort, but the truest version of those genres.
Magnus’ voice emerges as the siren’s call to this cocktail, devastated on “Take A Number,” and full and rich as she makes an entrance on “Black Eyed Suzie.” And while Shotton leans more towards a supporting role, he’s got the final say with “Rocky’s Road,” a more folksy number in line with the jig-worthy “Cherokee Shuffle” as the Saskatoon couple skirts eastward.
And while it might have been, admittedly, these songs that first helped Rugged Little Thing appeal to me, they would be nothing without the banjo and the bluegrass that pair with them and make them what they are. Fusing together the disparate roots of our country’s edges, and pairing them with the smooth touch of Magnus’ voice, Rugged Little Thing has indeed mixed a fine drink.
Top Tracks: “Take A Number”; “Cherokee Shuffle”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)