When they first started playing together two years ago, the Blue Wranglers never expected to ever break a record.
But in a small rural town in the midst of a pandemic, anything can happen.
Bluegrass band Clinton – made up of Dustin Bentall, Trixie Berkel, Bruce Ambler and Dan Fremlin – have spent the last 10 days recording their debut album, a compilation of 11 new and reimagined songs, written mostly by Berkel, with the help of Bentall and Fremlin.
“I’m incredibly proud of everything we put into this and what it turned out to be,” Berkel said during a break from recording last week. “We worked incredibly hard.”
The songs were recorded within a tight 10-day window between family chores — Berkel and Bentall have two little boys — and calving season at the Fremlin Ranch. The vocal tracks were due to be completed last weekend before being mixed and produced by John Rahan of Vancouver.
The songs are about life, death and everything in between, Berkel said, and are inspired by Clinton’s countryside and rural lifestyle.
“Bruce took Dustin and Dan up into the mountains and I can imagine them sitting in the bush,” she said. “These are community-oriented songs.”
Berkel credits Ambler, the band’s banjo selector, for inspiring her, after telling a Free press journalist, he wanted to go to the Grand Ol’ Opry. “He looked me in the eye and said you better write,” Berkel said, before turning to Ambler. “I don’t know if you know how seriously I took it. I’ve always written songs but never really followed them, so this record is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do so.
This will be Ambler’s first album. Fremlin has been playing the mandolin since she was 14 and Bentall has several albums to her credit. Berkel also made a few recordings, but said “nothing I’m too proud of”.
Until now. Berkel maintains that she always thought they would make a record one day – “I thought we sounded pretty good initially, to be honest” – but acknowledges that it could have taken longer if the pandemic had not hit.
Bentall had toured with an indie rock band, Hunt, when COVID-19 closed them on the evening of their night out. He came home to wait, jam with the Blue Wranglers.
“It really got us through those dark times,” Bentall said. “We were lucky to have moved here and had these amazing players to play with. After a year of messing around, we started to sound pretty good.
The group gave their first consecutive concerts on July 23, in aid of the town of Lytton. Later that fall, Berkel got busy writing one of their songs – Hello today — when Ambler, a guide outfitter, took Bentall and his father Barney on a pack trip through the mountains.
“I just felt like, the chorus anyway, it came together while you were away because I was having this existential crisis,” Berkel said. “I thought, you’re going to come out of the mountains and we’re going to have to get to work because this is who and what I am.”
The album contains songs that showcase each member’s strengths, she said. And despite being a bluegrass band, the Blue Wranglers also decided to add some drums, bringing in Leon Power from Salmon Arm.
“He was just the perfect choice for a batsman,” Berkel said. “It’s interesting because we’ve come to a very strong realization as a band, we have a very strong sound together. When I think about what’s going to shine on this record, the drums aren’t going to be too loud. That just going to elevate the vocals, the incredible instrumentation and the strength of these songs.
Ambler agreed, saying “the vocal arrangements will send shivers down your spine.
“We’re all pretty talented musicians, but we can’t resist some of these pickers, not even close, never will. But the one thing they can’t take away from us is our sound… No one will match that.
As a newcomer to the recording block, Ambler said he found the process a bit overwhelming “as the songs came out of the woodwork, but we pulled it off.”
Bentall agreed “we’ve done something great here”, but adds that they’ll also do a bluegrass album someday, as the band continues to grow and learn together. Even he “developed his musicality by 10”, he said, after having to learn melody and harmony – “a complete mystery to me”.
“Actually, I do my best to flatpick a record. It’s a huge thing for me,” he said. “You have to fit into this place in this band because everyone takes the lead and everyone sings and our vocals together are very special.”
The band have yet to decide how they will distribute their new album, saying they are considering “creative ways” to share it with the public.
“We try to build relationships with people,” Berkel said. “Just to have that back-and-forth feeling – we’ve all missed that for so long. I think there’s a way to do that with the actual release of a record, a much more interactive experience than a simple link somewhere on the Internet.
Bentall agreed, noting that while they still hope to get to Nashville or the Ryman, connecting with their local listeners is key.
“Our hometown is the nucleus and lets it spread from there. Due to our way of life, we can’t hit the road for weeks like we did when we were younger,” he said. he said, “With the perspective that COVID has brought and how this band grew out of it, we understood what’s really important.”
100 Mile HouseClinton