Abrams Brothers - Headwaters Council for the Performing Arts

By Barbara Wilkinson
There was no set, no blazing lights for this electrifying bluegrass band of two. And the
audience soon discovered that the Abrams Brothers did not need any props to present an
unforgettable show. This duo from Kingston, Ontario, performed their hearts out for a very
receptive crowd on March 15 at the Northland Pines High School Auditorium. Sponsored by the
Headwaters Council for the Performing Arts (HCPA), the fourth-generation musicians John and
James, now twenty-two and nineteen respectively, entertained with selections of bluegrass,
country and folk-rock that endeared them to the listeners by the end of the first selection.
Consisting of an amplified guitar and fiddle and two fine voices that blended beautifully, the
talented musicians transitioned from the music of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie to their own
amazing compositions.
The twosome was equally proficient in performing the slower, more reflective melodies
such as “While You Sleep” (Lawrence) and the livelier music of “The Red Haired Boy” (Irish
Reel). The beautiful two-part harmony stood out especially in “Sleep” as the singers crooned
through the piece, deeply feeling the music themselves, while the reel brought out James’ fiddling
expertise which spurred the audience on to tap its collective feet and to clap throughout the song.
There were numerous highlights, many of them written by the artists. Keeping The Wizard
of Oz alive while traveling through Kansas one year, they composed their version of “The Tin
Man,” a profound story of loneliness for their family that deftly interweaves from fast to slow as
the vocalists search for a heart to keep their love alive. From here, they turned to the popular “City
of New Orleans” (Guthrie) where they inspired the audience to join them in the chorus. Their
enlivened version brought whistles and cheers from the approving audience.
A more sedate “Waltz Above the Clouds” (Abrams Brothers) brought a softer, quieter aura
to the listeners. This mellow piece was a message to the suffering that with patience there will be
peace at the end, but was also riddled with several faster measures where the listener could change
gears and see the joy in life. From the film Brother, Where Art Thou? came a perfect reproduction
of the Soggy Bottom Boys’ “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Stewart). The artists moaned their way
through this self-pitying piece, finally succumbing to a wonderful mood-changing bluegrass
redemption and a rousing response from the audience.
In a lively rendition of “The Walls of Jericho” (Abrams Brothers), James demonstrated that
he could play the banjo as well as he does the fiddle. The duo wrote this lively tune while in Israel
performing for the Festival of Tiberius in Jericho. Its rapid pace brought the hint of trumpet sounds
to the stage, and the turbulent bluegrass ending cleverly signified the fall of the historic city.
Throughout the evening, the performers exhibited great stage presence and body language,
including the perfect moves to complement the songs. As a result, they maintained a delightful
rapport with the audience that was both homey and religious. The brothers declared that they had
a very close, loving family experience that derived from a profoundly religious background.
Accordingly, their music is laced with bits of the spiritual; their final song was taken from the
Bible as Jesus took “Two Little Fishes” (Abrams Brothers) and fed a crowd of people. It began
slowly, then became faster as the song continued, the fiddle playing chords as it worked up to the
fast pace of bluegrass. Before they were finished, the audience was already on its feet begging for
an encore.
Thanks again to the HCPA for their fine selections this year! It was a wonderful way to
spend a cold night in March.
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