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The Durham County Poets celebrate summer with a new album

When we visited with the Durham County Poets (DCP) one year ago, they were polishing material for their fifth album, and just before Christmas, they recorded it at Fast Forward Studio in Montreal. “We had all winter to listen to it; then it was like ‘Let’s add a trumpet there’,” explains vocalist Kevin Harvey. Their music producer, Bill Garrett, put it all together, and the album, Out of the Woods, was ready just in time for its launch at a sold-out May 20 concert at the Cultural Center in Chateauguay. Then it was on to Petit Campus in Montreal, and then to the National Arts Center in Ottawa. That was a busy week for the Poets.

Out of the Woods has a different vibe than previous DCP albums. Harvey explains, “I was inspired by watching Sam Cooke [A 1960s singer/songwriter] videos on Netflix during COVID. It could fall under the umbrella of blues and soul music, but it’s basically old-school R&B.” The band’s bass player, Carl Rufh, explains further: “It’s kind of like 60s/70s R&B.”

Perhaps it’s the strong presence of the horn section that pulls you into the music. “There were always horns, from the first album on; it was me and David Whyte. Now we have real horn players – we had fake horn players before,” laughs Rufh. “David played saxophone and I played trombone, and then we would put that on the recordings.”

The band’s third album, Grimshaw Road, featured horn player Jody Rolick; and then on the fourth album, Hand Me Down Blues, Mark LeClerc joined in. The horn section for Out of the Woods consists of Andy King on trumpet, with Mark LeClerc and Patrice Luneau on saxophone. The Poets take two horn players to all their shows. “They have work permits to tour the U.S.” says Harvey. “They are part of the sound. They are not members of the group; they are hired guns,” adds Ruhf. Kaven Jalbert, who plays with blues artist and 2020 Juno winner Dawn Tyler Watson, among others, will also be playing sax with the DCP. “The more we play with them, the more they are starting to feel like family. We hang out together and tell our war stories after the gig in the hotel room.” says Ruhf.

Another new face is that of guitarist Rob MacDonald. Because of job obligations, Neil Elsmore cannot tour this summer. Ruhf has known Macdonald since he was 18. “He is a super pro, one of the top guitar players in Quebec. I never thought he would say ‘yes’ [to playing with us].”

 

5 men in front of a white clapboard house, 3 on the porch hold an electric guiar, a double bass, and a pedal steel guitar, one leans with his hands in his pockets, and a 5th sits in a wheel chair in front of them
The Durham County Poets, from left: David Whyte, Carl Rufh, Rob Couture, and Neil Elsmore; and in front, Kevin Harvey PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

Emerging from the pandemic

Harvey describes post-pandemic shows as “euphoric,” but old COVID restrictions are hard to completely erase. While recording the video for the song Back at the Groove Shack, Whyte and Rufh experienced some “pandemic stress” doing backup vocals. “The videographer thought that it would look cool if we sang into the same mic. The first time I sang into the mic, David jumped about a foot backwards,” laughs Rufh.

Harvey describes pandemic rehearsals by saying, “50 feet apart is not fun,” but he recounts some funny moments featuring Ruhf: “He’s singing, and his glasses just steam up, and when he stops singing, [they’re] clear again. Then [when he starts singing again], they steam up. It was hilarious!”

Last September, the DCP eased out of the pandemic with an outdoor concert at the Tim Horton’s South Side Shuffle in Toronto. It was their first concert in a year and a half. “We had to wear masks backstage, but onstage we weren’t wearing [them],” says Rufh.

 

The Groove Shack

The Poets’ latest video, Back at the Groove Shack, is “an expression of joy,” says Ruhf. The actual “Groove Shack” is the cottage behind Rufh’s house where the band recorded their first two albums. Rufh remembers how the name came about: “We were rehearsing for the Junos, and David says, ‘It’s nice to be back at the Groove Shack!’.” Guitarist Whyte, who wrote the song, explains: “It’s more of a ‘getting back to your authentic self’ kind of idea.” The video for the song was recorded at Jim’s Shop in Riverfield. “It turned into a party,” says Ruhf, “and we were like, ‘Remember what this was like? Wasn’t it fun?’.”

 

The Juno Nomination

Although the 2020 Junos were cancelled because of the pandemic, all was not lost. The DCP were finally reimbursed for their cancelled airline tickets, and they spent the money on their video. But the Juno nomination has changed many things for the band. Bookings have been coming in regularly. “It’s a feather in your cap,” says Harvey. “It gives you credibility,” adds Ruhf. “We get dressing rooms now. You open up the fridge, and there’s, like, beer in there! Kevin was like, “Oh my G#@$! There are lights around the mirror!’.”

The DCP say they feel like they have been on hold for two years, but now they have the new album, and tour dates are booked into November. “It feels like we hit the ground running!” says Rufh.

You can view the in-concert video of DCP Live at The Fallout Shelter in Norwood Massachusetts, and the official Back to the Groove Shack video on YouTube. The Durham County Poets have a webpage, durhamcountypoets.com, where tour dates are posted; they also have a Facebook page.

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