Nashville, Tenn. — A Rankin musician who has earned the reputation as one of the most esteemed fiddlers and step-dancers both nationally and internationally, is celebrating her earliest musical influences in her new album being released April 12.
“Once A Day” is April Verch’s 12th album and the daughter of Ralph and Muriel Verch of Rankin said it’s a heartfelt homage to the 1950’s and 60’s classic country music that she learned to love during her childhood.
“I think Valley readers of the Leader probably know how important country music has been in my upbringing and career, just as much as fiddling and dancing,” she said.
“Dad had a country band (The Country ’Coons) when I was growing up, and a lot of our early experiences were performing with them.
“Then once Tawnya (older sister Tawnya Painchaud) and I came along, dad got busy dragging us around to lessons and performances and that’s sort of when the band stopped playing,” she added. “Before we came along, I think they played nearly every weekend, for dances and functions, and I can remember them practicing and doing the odd thing here or there, but it wasn’t a going concern anymore because he sort of let it go for us.”
She said country music was the norm of the day and it was all they listened to at home.
“With a little bit of bluegrass thrown it,” she remarked.
As well as the influence from home, Ms. Verch noted Buster and Pauline Brown would invite the Dueling Dancers (with her sister Tawnya, and Jon and Nathan Pilatzke of Eganville) to come along and perform at jamborees, conventions, and fairs with local country legends like Howard Hayes, Ron McMunn, and Ralph Carlson.
“So it’s always been something that’s there and I’ve wanted to pay tribute to that and do an album like this, but I think it took awhile for me to feel that it was the right time, and that I could really do it justice,” she added. “And it just felt like it was time to go there now.”
Ms. Verch said all but one of the 15 tracks on the recording are “cover songs” of other performers, excluding one instrumental entitled, “Fiddling Under The Mistletoe”, which she described as a tribute to all the Ottawa Valley country musicians she grew up around.
She fondly recalled her family being invited to Christmas parties hosted by Peter James Lajoie, a guitarist for Howard Hayes, who hosted the party for various country performers.
“It was the one time of the year where I wasn’t just the little fiddler and step-dancer. He would invite us and I would be able to get up and play back-up fiddle with some of those performers.
“And I remember that being such a huge thing because whenever we performed with them, I was just somebody that came off and on the stage,” she added. “But at 10 years old, I remember feeling I was part of the band. And they were always so generous to me in just treating me as an equal and encouraging me.”
That is something she always thinks of and when she was making the album, she realized a lot of those people are no longer alive.
“I’m sure they never had any idea how much that meant to me and how it planted the seed for what I’m doing now,” she stated.
The album includes such classics as the title track, penned by Bill Anderson and originally recorded by Connie Smith, to Loretta Lyn’s “You Aint Woman Enough”, and Webb Pierce’s, “You’re Not Mine Anymore”. It was released by Slabtown Records and recorded at studio in Nashville owned by Bil VornDick and produced by Doug Cox.
“Doug is from Vancouver Island, so he’s a fellow Canadian musician and friend who I’ve known for years,” Ms. Verch explained. “And Bil, he engineered it and recorded it at his studio in Nashville.”
Ms. Verch said Mr. VornDick actually recorded a lot of the original artists who Ms. Verch is covering on the album.
“He worked for all of those legends and has been at it for a long time, so it was really cool to hear the stories and also for him to know exactly what techniques to use in order to recreate a little bit of that vintage sound,” she added. “We weren’t trying to pretend it was still the 50’s, but we did want it to have a sound that was reminiscent of that.”
A press release for the album notes it’s “void of contemporary gimmicks and over-production”.
“That’s part of what I love about that era of music, is that it’s before things became over-produced. It was really just about the songs and even the arrangements, you’ll notice there’s maybe one song that’s longer than three minutes, and that’s the way they were back then. Partly for radio but partly because that’s all they needed.”
Not only was Mr. VornDick’s insight invaluable for Ms. Verch, but so was the contributions of the three guest musicians who played back-up on the album — steel guitarist, Al Perkins, guitarist Redd Volkaert, and fiddler Kenny Sears — who have worked with legends like Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis and at the Grand Ole Opry.
“They were all really sweet,” she said of the contributing musicians. “It was really amazing that there were no egos.
“What surprised me the most was, I knew their history and their importance, and I was a little bit nervous to meet them,” she added. “But when they came into the studio that first day, every one of them thanked me for making this record and for letting them play on this music again because no one plays it any more.”
She said they would sometimes share stories about the original artist or they’d say something like, “Webb Pierce would have loved that”, because they actually knew him. “And that was very touching,” she remarked.
Thirteen of the 15 tracks include vocals and two are solely instrumental. Ms. Verch does some soft shoe percussion on a couple of the vocals, which she said sounds more like a snare drum, but there is no step-dancing.
“It’s purely a record that you would have heard back then,” she said.
Special Guest Vocalist
Ms. Verch was proud to say her father, Ralph, is a special guest vocalist for duets with her on two of the album’s tracks — Mac Beattie’s, “Lake Dore Waltz” and Bob King’s, “Let’s Make A Fair Trade”.
While her father has recordings of his own music which both she and sister Tawnya are on, this is the first time he has appeared on one of her 12 recordings.
“So we have been in the studio together before, but this is the first of my records that he’s on,” she noted.
“He and mom were great, it was so cool to have them in Nashville and have them in the studio behind the scenes with some of those legendary people too. I get so excited and passionate about it to actually have them there and phone home and just talk about it and to have them right there was really cool.”
She has been working on the album for about 18 months, from the original concept, and they went into the studio last November.
Ms. Verch said the cover shot of herself in the appropriate attire and hairstyle of the era fit the theme of the album well and was fun for her to do.
“Sometimes, I think I was born in the wrong era because I really do connect with that so much. But then, maybe I think I was born in exactly the right era, because it allows me to do this now and have it get a little new life and maybe a few people my age who normally wouldn’t listen to this, will hear it and look up the originals.”
Like most artists, Ms. Verch had a vision of what she wanted the finished product to sound and look like.
“I would say it exceeded my expectations in every way. I had high hopes but it’s just so good to have those musicians . . . The team that brought this together was so strong. For me, it was easy to do what I had to do because they just made it. I was riding on their coat-tails, they’re so good.”
She believes the fact she waited until the ”right time” to do this is why the results are so good.
“You have to find the right producer who feels as strongly about doing it the way you want to do it. You really both have to agree on approaching the classis your way. Then you have to have the right engineer and the right band and I don’t know if that could have come together the way that it did earlier in my career.
“Part of it is just being around long enough and having the right connections and enough respect to have these people say “yes,” she added. “I don’t think it would have been as good had I done it earlier.”
She said 2019 promises to be another busy year with the album launch in April in Nashville, touring and doing instructions at fiddle camps across Canada and the U.S. She also has concert dates in Australia, Finland and Estonia.
She said they have incorporated a couple of tracks from the new album in the repertoire for their tours, adding the launch, which is to be held at the historic Station Inn venue in Nashville, will feature the back-up artists from the recording as well as a full country band.
She said the launch party on April 10 will be streamed live and people here in the Valley can watch it on you tube at https://www.stationinn.com/event/201904-10-april-merch/
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of Ms. Verch’s “Once A Day“ for $20, can do so by going to her website: aprilverch.com.