The Abrams Brothers-From Bluegrass to ‘Newgrass’

Cover, Julu 29, 2011

Story: Lenny Stoute
If John Abrams is a typical 20-year-old Canadian youth then our country is in for a bright future. Right on the rim shot of 9 a.m. the front man for bluegrass rockers The Abrams Brothers is on the line from home base Kingston, Ontario with the story of the Coldplay connection.

Just before new album Northern Redemption closes out there’s the unlikely explosion of Coldplay’s anthemic ‘Viva La Vida’. Since the originals are pretty cohesive on the theme of music’s redemptive power, quite how that one fits in is a puzzlement.
“ Ok, that one was just for us,” laughs John. “We’re huge Coldplay fans and we thought it would be really cool to do a bluegrass country rock version. We started playing it live and people liked it so then we thought to make a video, really just for fun.
It took some doing but we ended up getting the song to Coldplay. They sent word back that they really liked our version and gave us permission to go ahead and do the video for free. That was really encouraging and once we put the video out, it went viral”.

Apart from being fun, the Coldplay single is also part of the grand design, to return his generation to a valid acquaintance with organic, authentic forms of music.“ If there’s anything I’d like our youthful audience to get out of the album is an acquaintances or even a re-introduction to something that is organic, that has grown and marinated over the years."

“ It’s like a good steak, well marinated. There’s so much music out there that’s corporate sounding and artificial, our music gives people of our generation something meaty to hold onto, something that’s real”.

The trio of brothers John 20 (ld vcls, gtrs, kybds, percs, mandolin) James 18 (ld vcls, violins, gtrs, percs) and cousin Elijah Abrams 20 (elec, acst basses), now augmented by ex-Weeping Tile stickman Ken Giroux, have the chops to walk the walk. Which is to say, the chops to re-write genre history. They’re ten-year veterans of the touring life and heirs to four generations of musical heritage. Their dad Brian is often onstage with them, and young John plays an acoustic guitar built by his grandfather.

Over the course of 4 albums, they’ve toured all across Canada, gone into the U.S. and played Bethlehem PA but not Bethlehem, Israel although they’ve played three times in other parts of Israel. They’ve also got the cutes of The Jonas Brothers, the onstage magnetism of Justin Bieber and write better songs than all of those combined. They remain committed to and active in their Christian community, have remained in the public school system throughout and come the Fall, the brothers Abrams will enter Queen’s University.
All that, plus running their own business and their quest for ‘newgrass world domination’ adds up to a work ethic that’d make a Canadian beaver blush.

Current album Northern Redemption is a significant step in the direction of change. It’s an ambitious and accomplished piece of work, especially in view of the youthfulness of its creators. Its eight original tunes show a stronger songwriting hand than previously and John puts a lot of that down to increased life experience and influences seen and felt.
“ In 2009 we recorded ‘Blue On Brown’, covering songs from Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. Working on that quality of tunes inspired us to push our songwriting boundaries. We felt we had to follow that with strong originals, songs that stretched our sound”.

With the aforementioned songs in hand, thoughts turned to a producer and in short order the band settled on homeboy Chris Brown. The iconic roots music producer is currently working out of The Post Office, located in the historic Post Office Building on Wolfe Island, just off the coast of Kingston.

“ Chris was a tremendous source of inspiration and guidance for the album. The way he works fitted well with us. He’s not the kind of producer who tells you what to do; he has a way of bringing out what you want to get at. Then he helps you in getting even more out of it.
“ He has played with so many incredible musicians and is such an incredible musician himself, he has an extremely wide frame of references".

" Plus he’s an amazing friend. and as a producer, get it that it’s totally about the song. With this album, we’re moving away from our previous sound and Chris was totally into that and how we would make the transition."

“ Our music has been this blend of bluegrass and Gospel. The decision to rock it up wasn’t even up to us. It was something we felt that we had to do, the next stage in growing”.

While Northern Redemption represents evolutionary growth it also reflects business savvy aware that the only way to grow the band’s market is by expansion among the younger audience.
Nonetheless, the material makes no effort to pander or dumb down. Instead, John offers detailed insight into the album title and the new material’s place in the Abrams Brothers continuum.

“ We’ve always believed in music’s power to cross cultural and other differences and bring people together. Music has the power to help us redeem ourselves but it also has the power to redeem itself ".

“ By updating traditional forms like bluegrass and Gospel, we’re redeeming them for a generation that otherwise might never get to hear them ".

“ For the same reason, while our live show has always been high-energy, it’s even more so now, especially with the addition of Ken (Giroux)”.

Young, fun, with talent to burn, The Abrams Brothers have just begun to rock. To those who rock the grass, we salute you.