Mumford and Sons may have brought the banjo to the mainstream, but from the opening chords of “New Black,” it’s clear that Shred Kelly haven’t hopped on the bandwagon — this is just what they do. In The Hills, the Fernie-based band’s second album, is a whirlwind of folk-punk fury from start to finish. These tunes aren’t toe-tappers. They are boot-stompers.
The band’s two singers compliment each other wonderfully. Sage McBride’s airy harmonies are the perfect counterpoint to Tim Newton’s impassioned, gravelly tenor. And McBride is no slouch herself on the songs on which she sings lead — the two are able to trade off in a way that feels effortless and natural, and it keeps the album from staying in any one place for too long.
Indeed, the whole album has a real sense of movement to it. The aforementioned “New Black” kicks the album off with a barn-burner, but slower jams like “Jewel of the North” never feel out of place — they’re just stops along the way.
Don’t let the folk-punk descriptor turn you off if the idea of a bunch of guys with their dads’ old acoustic guitars doesn’t excite you. The instrumentation on In The Hills is rich and varied, and avoids the lo-fi conceits that can make some folk-punk records tiring to listen to.
“Rowed Away” is a particular standout in this regard, a heartfelt ballad with a lush string arrangement that builds to a climactic full-band crescendo, and a horn section accents the chorus of “Leaving Town” beautifully. The bluesy “Cabin Fever” adds an organ part toward the end that nicely fleshes out the song without feeling forced.
All of this energy and variety means that just about anyone should be able to find something to like on In The Hills. Give the ol’ banjo one more try. You’ll be glad you did.