April Verch has never sounded more comfortable in her skin than she does now, in the second decade of her career as an internationally touring Canadian fiddler, step dancer and singer-songwriter. Her ninth album, Bright Like Gold, captures a woman who’s fleshed out her identity and is in full command of her gifts, a woman who’s grown from a prodigy into an enduring artist—one of music’s most unforgiving public transitions—with grace and grit to spare.
The April Verch Band—rounded out by bassist and clawhammer banjo player Cody Walters and guitarist Hayes Griffin, who has a Masters in jazz improv from the New England Conservatory—is an energetic, virtuosic, tradition-celebrating outfit. It doesn’t hurt that the thrilling grand finale involves Verch fiddling and step dancing—and often executing two entirely different intricate rhythmic patterns—at once.
It’s a wonder to behold Verch pulling off those pristine double-time triplets with her feet, and the myriad other ways she represents an artist in touch with roots and in her element. She won't be the one to mention that by the time she was finishing up her first year of college she had become the first woman to win both the Canadian Open Old Time Fiddle Championship and Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition, or even the fact that she represented Canada's fiddling tradition by performing in the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Something else that’s downright impressive is the range of material Verch, Walters and Griffin inhabit on the new album. She’s so fluent in folk traditions—the Canadian ones she was born into and the American ones she later found her way to—that old fiddle tunes like those featured in the Canadian medley “Dusty Miller,” “Fiddle Fingers” and “Grizzly Bear” and the Appalachian medley “Edward in the Treetop,” “Yellow Jacket” and “Quit That Tickling Me” sound positively reinvigorated. Originals like her instrumental waltz “Morris & Boris” and country courting number “The Only One” are clearly made to last.
What makes the latter song even more special is that Bluegrass Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman’s voice is on it, and he’s not the only guest of note. Premier old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky joins Verch for some handsome dual fiddling on “Evening Star Waltz,” and bluegrass banjo icon Sammy Shelor appears on “Davy Davy” and “Folding Down the Sheets.” Griffin’s “Foolish Heart” offers a playful take on western swing, Walters' “Raven In the Hemlock” unfurls melodic surprises and Verch’s “Broken” and “Sorry” have real emotional heft. The fact that she also chose to include “No Other Would Do”—the only song her dad’s ever written—perfectly completes the musical circle.
Verch, leader of this self-assured ensemble, is claiming her power as an artist and a woman, and taking charge of her recording process. Produced by Verch, Walters, Griffin, and their engineer Chris Rosser, Bright Like Gold is, quite literally, the album of Verch’s life.