Blues band Black Iron Blossom came out of nowhere. I hadn’t even heard of them before the normally quiet Sam Gallagher stopped me in Mac’s Fireweed Books, told me he’s in a band and asked me to listen to their CD, called Full Moon Over Whitehorse.
What I heard completely floored me. With a raw and raunchy lap steel guitar and Gallagher’s deep bass vocals, the music is a mix of heavy roots and blues, with lyrics approaching a Nick Cave level of darkness.
Contrasting with Gallagher’s bass is Beth Chisholm’s smoky alto, vocally lighter but still edgy and raw. The two harmonize and trade lead vocal duties on the album.
The band came together in 2012 during a series of house jams hosted by Jim and Cath Welsh. Gallagher, a guitar and slide player who took lessons from the late Whitehorse blues legend Aylie Sparks, met Chisholm four years ago, forming a band called The Ditch.
“We played covers,” Gallagher says, “a lot of Phish, Grateful Dead, a lot of 30-minute jams.”
Then came harmonica player Jean Langlois. Langlois had moved to Whitehorse in 2013 and traded in his piano for something more portable.
“That was my first winter project, learning harmonica,” he says.
It works; the harmonica on the album sounds natural and polished without losing any of the roughness of the band’s tone.
“It was a long winter, Langlois says.”
Rounding out the band are Daniel Bouck on bass, Aubrey Sicotte on drums and Lara Lewis on piano. Keitha Clark, a fiddler player known for the band Home From Home, plays as a guest on three songs.
Recorded largely in a cabin built by Sicotte, the album is produced by Jordy Walker.
“Walker is a musician, and he’s also a producer in the sense of being an extra set of ears in the room,” Langlois says. “A number of times, where we’d always played something a certain way, Jordy would say, ‘Have you ever thought of tweaking it this way?’”
Walker blends the sounds of the lap steel, harmonica and fiddle into a single energy. On the opening track, “Sad Train,” the rumbling rhythm of the instruments churn together before separating into howling solos. Over that, Gallagher and Chisholm’s vocal dive into his dark lyrics, “I met her in spring, we married soon thereafter/She wore my ring dressed in black leather.”
The lyrics get darker as the album goes on. The song “Midnight,” a song written under the influence of pneumonia and medication, takes a blues rhythm into Nick Cave territory: “Bury me at midnight/On the outskirts of town…Wrap me in fine linen.”
The title track, “Full Moon Over Whitehorse,” is a snapshot of the local music scene in the 2000s, including shout-outs to guitar, bass and drum stalwarts Aylie Sparks, Paul Stephens and Marc Paradis, and to the greatest blues venue Whitehorse has known, the Taku Arms.
Far removed from that song is “East Hastings,” a descent into substance abuse set in the seamier side of Vancouver.
The song “My Addiction,” with music and vocal by pianist Lara Lewis, turns from a simple love song to something more ambiguous: “I want you like a miner wants a silver vein.”
Black Iron Blossom will have their CD release concert in Whitehorse at the Gold Pan Saloon, September 18 and 19, where they will also be performing new material, including songs written by the rest of the band.
Outstanding tracks: Sad Train and Midnight