PHOTO CREDIT : Rick Magnell // DOWNLOAD HIGH-RES
With their new album, Sweet Old Religion, Pharis & Jason Romero return, literally, from the ashes. Since the release of their last album, the JUNO Award winning A Wanderer I’ll Stay, the musicians and celebrated instrument makers at J. Romero Banjo Co. had taken a year-long sabbatical from touring and recording to welcome their second child, build some banjos, and tear down their house in Horsefly, BC, to build a new one with the help of their local and extended community. But, as they worked to build their new home a fire came in the night to claim their workshop. The Romeros found themselves surrounded by the community that came to support them.
“I think being ‘pushed to the edge’ is a perfect way of of describing how that summer felt. The day after the fire, support just started pouring in,” says Pharis. “It was overwhelming, this sense of receiving when we had absolutely nothing to give other than love and thanks.” And in the midst of the chaos of building and rebuilding, taking care of children, and feeding everyone, Pharis says, “music and songwriting were hovering at the edge but never came inside. There was no space to just sit and be and let thoughts, melodies, and ideas ferment.” These experiences and the growing sense of gratitude would soon be connected and drawn together through music, becoming Sweet Old Religion, Pharis & Jason’s first album made up of entirely original songs.
“Just weeks after everyone left, all the music, all of the songwriting, it just began to flow immediately as if a tap was opened,” says Pharis. “There was suddenly this space for all those months of really big feelings–having our son, dealing with loss and change, and receiving so much love and support–to be gathered into this big swirl of ideas, feelings, and melodies. It just all started coming out like crazy.” The record’s opening track and title of the album, “Sweet Old Religion”, reflects on that experience and on an individual’s power to feel love in the world no matter their beliefs.
Having been together for a decade, making music together, working together, and parenting together, the Romeros are at their strongest and most free on Sweet Old Religion. “Our lives have become so intertwined, even our phrasing and vocal cadences match like family,” says Pharis. In keeping with their handcrafted and homemade family business disposition, Pharis and Jason sought to make as much of the album live in their home as possible. Turning one side of their reconstructed instrument shop into a studio, they recorded with engineer John Raham and producer Marc Jenkins. The album also features Patrick Metzger on bass, John Reischman on mandolin, Josh Rabie on fiddle, and Raham and Jenkins joining them on drums and pedal steel.
After album opener “Sweet Old Religion”, the record then takes the listener to an evocative treatise on the power of each of us to create change in a “Stitch In Time”. While Pharis sings of her desire to adore her old wanderer no matter where he wanders in “Salt And Powder”, Jason lauds the wanderer’s life in “Leave The Garden Gate Open”. Both sing of love inspired by their children in “Babes, Mothers And Fathers” and “Come On Love”, while “The Salesman” describes their hope for a future less cluttered by consumerism and more enrobed by acceptance for one’s fellow humans. “You Are A Shining Light” is inspired by the gifts given by a dying member of their music community (who died before they were able to play him this song). And in homage to their love for early American roots music, “Old World Style” sings of the lonely cowboy on the prairie, “Age Old Dream” of the young rural worker unsure of where his future lies, and “You Are The Best Thing” is a hopeful thought from one young lover to another.
Musically, Sweet Old Religion carries a wide spread of influences, spanning from early 1920s jazz, blues, and country to 1960s songwriters like Levon Helm and The Band. The album also features songs inspired by their deep love of old music and rural life, with archaic banjo tunings where Jason moves between several of his own handmade instruments to bring out unique tones for each song.
Now, Pharis & Jason Romero are back on the road, with a new workshop, a mostly finished house, and two kids running across the fields. The songs on Sweet Old Religion sparkle like stars. Together they form a constellation that tells an ancient and archetypal story visible to anyone who looks up at the sky on a summer night. And to all those who listen it whispers down below: “Slow down, dig deep, and love your neighbour.”
SWEET OLD RELIGION TRACKLIST
1. Sweet Old Religion
2. Stitch In Time
3. Salt & Powder
4. Old World Style
5. Age Old Dream
6. The Salesman
7. You Are a Shining Light
8. You are The Best Thing
9. Leave the Garden Gate Open
10. Come on Love
11. Babes, Mothers & Fathers
May 11 - Duncan, BC - Cowichan Performing Arts Centre
May 12 - Salt Spring Island, BC - PitchFork Concerts
May 13 - Victoria, BC - Oak Bay United Church
May 17-18 - Vancouver, BC - Rogue Fok Club
May 20 - Bowen Island, BC - TBA
Jun 25-30 - Port Townsend, BC - Voice Works
Aug 3-5 - Stony Plain, AB - Blueberry Bluegrass Festival
Aug 20-25 - Sorrento, BC - Nimble Fingers Bluegrass & Old Time Festival