Listening Room

01 Canadian HitsCanadian Hits: Unplugged
Saint John String Quartet
Leaf Music LM227 (


Track 1 - Brian Wilson (Barenaked Ladies)

Track 2 - River (Joni Mitchell)

Track 3 - Ahead by a Century (The Tragically Hip)

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Here is another innovative recording by the New Brunswick-based St. John String Quartet, one that recasts well-known Canadian songs in adept string arrangements by Rebecca Pellett. These songs are familiar to us with vocals plus the reverberant long-decaying tones of guitars, bass, pedaled piano and added studio production. So it is an arranger’s challenge to create satisfying textures with only four bowed instruments! Lots of pizzicato is one way to sustain the background, as in the arrangement of Francis by Béatrice Martin (Coeur de pirate). Evoking the simple group vocal sound of Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage is another way. Percussive effects on the string instruments add equivalent interest and authenticity to Knocking at the Door (Arkells) and the heavy slog of Spring to Come (Digging Roots). The latter’s humour is topped by a tastefully tongue-in cheek Miss Chatelaine (k.d. lang) in tango rhythm with amusing string slides, all dissolving into fairy dust at the end…

But the true elixir of this disc’s arranging by under-billed Pellett is in the eloquence of River (Joni Mitchell) and the Celtic sound of If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot). And leader/violinist David Adams, violinist Danielle Sametz, violist Christopher Buckley and cellist Sonja Adams certainly surpass the mere “unplugged hits” world here! A sound world bathed in long non-vibrato tones, harmonics and emotionally text-conscious melody-playing, here seems to be an ideal realized by players and arranger alike.

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