It’s been a long time in the making, but it was worth waiting for.
South Surrey-based act The Sumner Brothers have a new CD, I’ll Be There Tomorrow, that successfully sums up their authentic ‘so raw it’s bloody’ approach to roots and country music.
What Brian and Bob Sumner, and long-time collaborators Mike Ardagh (drums and percussion) and James Meger (electric and upright bass) have wrought is not so much an album as a movie.
It comes across as a series of needle-drops meant to support well-crafted film sequences, the soundtrack for a modern, inherently-watchable western full of brooding silences and stubborn adherence to simple codes of behaviour the morally compromised may not recognize.
Principally recorded, appropriately enough, in a log cabin in the mountains near Merritt, I’ll Be There Tomorrow has all the classic ingredients: heartache, hard-bitten toughness and don’t-mess-with-me defiance (Toughest Man In Prison Camp); vengeance and obligation (Going Out West, which actually salutes the immortal mantra ‘a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’); and even unexpected, touching tenderness (You Will Find Me).
Two covers, Townes Van Zandt’s Colorado Girl and That’s Alright by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, blend seamlessly into the panorama of pain, passion and possible redemption.
Over the half-decade since they first began developing their act, Brian (who adds multi-instrumental skills to growling baritone vocals) and Bob (who plays guitar and sings tenor in a disarmingly unaffected way) have won praise in Vancouver – and as far afield as Europe – for being the real thing.
People recognize the genuineness of the Sumners’ music as they themselves have responded to some of their own idols – Johnny Cash and Stompin’ Tom Connors, for instance.
“The word honesty comes up quite a bit,” Brian acknowledged, during a recent interview.
“That honesty aspect comes from country music. We’ve taken the truth of country music lyrics and added the influences of all the other music we listen to.”
The brothers, who just completed a West Coast tour, are aware that by steadfastly following their own path they’ve chosen a harder road than attempting to follow the formulas of music marketers and their write-by-committee hit factories – but at least it’s their own road.
“It attracts a certain kind of fan – our defintive fan is a die-hard,” said Bob.
“We hope there’s enough of us out there that the market is big enough,” Brian added.
The circumstances of the recording added to the rough and ready feel, they said.
“We’ve been very lucky with our albums – the first one was recorded on Galiano Island by a local guy, Ben Brown,” Bob said.
“This one was recorded in a really big, beautiful log cabin belonging to one of our dad’s childhood friends (Jim Tortyna), who used to own The Yale. Most of the writing was done beforehand, but the location was really inspiring when capturing the vocals.”
“It placed a limitation on what we could do,” said Brian.
“It forced us to hunker down and work with what we’d got, which gave it a raw quality – we didn’t have any soundproof booths in the cabin.”
It took a while for them to be ready to release the album – so long, in fact, that Ardagh and Meger have since departed the band, with mutual good wishes, to work on their own projects.
“They were with us four or five years, and they set a standard for us,” Bob said.
But over the process of touring and playing, the Sumners have continued to perfect their sound, improve their technical capabilities and hone their songwriting.
Locally, fans of the Sumners can watch for news of an exciting new project – the brothers are interested in launching a school for aspiring young musicians where they can give back some of the benefits they have reaped from the people they have worked with.
For more information on gigs, or to order I’ll Be There Tomorrow, visit www.thesumnerbrothers.com