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The Rural Alberta Advantage

Today I put the spotlight on The Rural Alberta Advantage, a group I just became hip to recently and just saw over the weekend here in Indy at Radio Radio. The trio hails from Alberta, Canada, and is led by Nils Edenloff at the acoustic, with a keyboard/keybass player and a drummer. Simple, stripped-down, effective.

The best way I can describe their sound is to say that it's bass drum-driven, acoustic/electro folk. Edenloff sounds kind of like the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, but minus the grunge sound. The emphasis here is definitely on Edenloff's singing/songwriting, and Paul Banwatt's right foot on the kick-drum. Though keyboardist Amy Cole adds a neat electro-pop sound with her synth work.

Lyrically, their sound comes off a bit Smashing Pumpkins-ish at times: angsty, gritty, looking back to the past with anger and longing. At least two (maybe more) of their songs are about natural disasters that befell Alberta, including "Tornado '87" and "Frank AB," neither of which I'd heard about before Saturday night. One of the highlights of the evening was when Edenloff slowed things down and played his version of the themesong to a popular Canadian children's T.V. show from the 80s, called "The Littlest Hobo," which sounded like a song that could've easily been written by this band.

RAA played all three of those on Saturday, including the track "Stamp" from their new album Departing (Saddle Creek), plus a good selection of tracks from their 2008 album Hometowns. Critically, their first album seems to have gotten a little bit better reviews than their latest cut. Having listened to both, I'd have to say I'm split. The combination of "Stamp" and "Tornado '87" make it hard for me to throw Departing under the bus like that.

If I had one major critique it would be this: something seems missing. At least from what I saw on Saturday, it seems like RAA is very much Edenloff's show, with two people supporting. Which seems a shame because Banwatt and Cole seem talented in their own rights. It's just something about the combination of the synth, the heavy drum-bass, and the acoustic, that makes for an uneven sound at times, maybe something that could be cleared up with the addition of a bass guitar?

Overall, however, these guys get a thumbs up in my book for fulfilling my main qualification: they rock, and rock hard. They kept the pace fast, kept the crowd up, and only once through the whole show did they fall back on the "one dude & a guitar" format that I tend to loathe.

If you missed them this time's going to be a while before they're back. They're leaving the country (probably gone by now) after their show in Cleveland, and heading overseas for a tour of the U.K. and Europe.

Oh, and lest I forget, they were opened up by Lord Huron, an originally Michigan-based group now out of L.A. Musically they're out of a different cloth than RAA, looking like L.A.-hipster barbie dolls and sounding like beachy, ethereal, space-folk. Not especially my thing, but I have to say these guys had a very tight, well-produced set which featured three guitars and two- and three-part harmonies, along with a theremin, of all things, bongo drums, and a melodica. Highlights of the set (and sorry, I don't know any of the songs) was a long, spacey, mesmerizing guitar interlude that almost put me in mind of Meddle-era Pink Floyd. Good stuff, guys.


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