Published May 18, 2016The newest album to come from Toronto's prolific stringband scene arrives courtesy of one of its best-loved members, singer/songwriter Kristine Schmitt. Originally from Kitchener, ON, Schmitt calls Toronto home and has been wooing audiences for years across the swing, country, old-time and bluegrass spectrum (Hamstrung Stringband, the Backstabbers, Kristine Schmitt and her Special Powers). This first solo album was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.
Despite there being no shortage of good singers out there, Schmitt still turns heads with her big, bold, belt-it-out vocals that barely need a microphone. She's as rowdy as they come, but still manages to be subtle, dynamic and musical. Backed by some of the finest musicians around — Chris Coole (banjo), John Showman (fiddle) and Max Heineman (bass), who are collectively known as the Lonesome Ace Stringband — and featuring guest harmony vocals by Simone Schmidt, Schmitt's in excellent company here.
Recorded by Andrew Collins and produced by Chris Coole, these songs expertly combine old-time instrumentation with songs that score high on the honky-tonk register. Perhaps the most notable thing about Good Dirt, though, is what's not there: guitar. On most of the tracks, that most mainstay of all acoustic instruments is nowhere to be found, with the banjo, bass and fiddle combining to provide an airy and punchy rhythm section. It's the perfect backdrop for Schmitt's powerful singing and signature thigh-slap percussion.
But Good Dirt's great performances are matched by equally impressive songwriting. Schmitt began writing songs when she found so few in the genre that suited her: "I was getting sick of being sepia-toned," she says, "and wanted music with a broader palette!" Her honky-tonk bona fides mean these songs wouldn't sound out of place on a small-town jukebox, but she weaves in Ontario landscapes, Toronto's streetcars and subway stations and tales of love and romance from an empowered female perspective.
Schmitt's penned some real modern classics here, like "Hop On a While With Me," which takes us on a streetcar ride to the CNE, "He Held Up His Hat (And He Kissed Me Behind It)," as good a tale of fickle lover behaviour as you'd ever find and "Cookin' Up Trouble," a rollicking party anthem. Hang onto your hats: Kristine Schmitt will knock you off your feet, then pick you up again and make you dance. (Independent)