The Trouble With Covers

NCR burns their own brand on Ghost of Your Charms

by James Brotheridge

newcountry2

New Country Rehab
The Exchange
Sunday 10

John Showman isn’t too worried if his band, New Country Rehab, isn’t perfect. “Good bands don’t really make mistakes,” says Showman. “They might drop a beat here and there. It just makes the music a little hairier. If you really feel it, you can’t really fuck it up.”

When New Country Rehab — comprised of vocalist/fiddler Showman, guitarist James Robertson, double-bassist Ben Whiteley and drummer Roman Tomé — started in 2010, the plan was to revive country classics by artists like Hank Williams. Showman and his bandmates wanted to explore old but still-relevant themes and sounds.

But after they released their self-titled debut in 2011, the band discovered the problem with covers.

“Because we were rearranging and rewriting the classic music so much in our attempts to rejuvenate it, it essentially became our own music,” says Showman. “But it doesn’t matter what you do to a Hank Williams song –– you can rearrange it, you can play it backwards, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a Hank Williams song.”

When you hit a dead end you either bail or blaze a new trail. In this case, breaking up the group wasn’t considered. They’d had too much success, both creatively and with fans. Showman, Robertson, Tomé and Whiteley had played all around Toronto prior to this group, in various bands and session work — and in  New Country Rehab they’d found a unique sound.

“We’d been playing two months, three months and I’d walk into a bar and hear someone talking about my band,” says Showman. “And I was like, ‘What? That’s never happened, and I’ve been a musician for 18 years.’ It wasn’t in any big way –– we’re just talking Toronto. But even to that extent.”

When the time came to start work on a new album, they made the decision to record mostly originals.

“You put that same amount of work into a song but it has your words and your title,” says Showman. “You have an original composition. That really was the impetus behind writing our own music.”

Their approach to these new songs was similar to how they’d reworked standards.

“We still try to take ideas from the classics –– melodic ideas, story ideas, structure ideas –– and just see what’s going to work well with the other ideas we’re throwing out.”

The resulting LP, Ghost of Your Charms, succeeds partly on strong songwriting and partly thanks to the unique sensibilities of NCR’s musicians.

“I knew I’d need people who weren’t just ringers in that style because then they’d just be doing what they already do,” says Showman. “I like stuff that feels as though the people playing it really believe it. Otherwise, it just feels like a technical exercise.”