There is going back to basics and then there is going beyond basics. The latter approach was the one employed by long-running Moncton outlaw country quartet The Divorcees for the making of From Labour To Refreshment, the group’s fourth full-length effort.
After spreading their wings on 2012’s ambitiously underrated Four Chapters, the band decided to take their love for traditional country music to the extreme. The end result is one of the group’s simplest yet most fulfilling albums to date.
“In many ways, this record is a throwback to our original desire to stay true to the genre and be ourselves at the same time,” Divorcees vocalist-guitarist Alex Madsen tells us. “What you hear is us with little in the way of extras added. We wanted it that way. It’s a bare-bones record and decidedly so; we looked at our songs and felt they should stand on their own without extra layers.”
Madsen contends that some of country music’s most celebrated albums, including Willie Nelson’s landmark 1975 release Red-Headed Stranger, celebrate the “less is more mentality” and has been something he has wanted to do for a number of years.
The last four years have been transformational ones for the band. Not only did they deliberately revamp their sound, the group also found themselves in the unenviable position of needing to bring a new guitarist and drummer on board in the time leading up to the making of the new album.
Joining the ranks of the group alongside Madsen and bassist Denis Arsenault were drummer Kevin Macintyre and guitarist Shawn Thomas. While some lesser groups might have bristled at the thought of needing to overhaul half of their band, Madsen insists that the “new recruits” have helped bring a new energy into the fold.
“I think whenever you add new people to the fold, it brings a fresh perspective to what you’re doing. It has re-energized the band in many ways,” he offers. “Shawn and Kevin have been excellent additions to the group. And as with many Maritime bands, of course, there was already a shared experience with the guys.”
Although Macintyre may have been new to The Divorcees when he joined the ranks of the band approximately two and a half years ago, Macintyre had collaborated with each member on various projects in the past. He says it was those cumulative experiences that helped make his transition into his current group a seamless one.
“Alex had nearly a full album’s worth of new material done shortly after I first joined the group, so we pretty much went straight to work on getting the songs ready for the studio,” Macintyre says. “It was a fun, creative time for me, learning and performing the band’s previous albums, while also working on the new material.”
As if recording a new record wasn’t quite nerve-wracking enough in the best of circumstances, Madsen shares the group opted to forego digital recording technology in favour of analogue recording. Both he and Macintyre admit it led to the occasional frayed nerve during the recording process.
“It was a little tough and a little intimidating at first as we were under the microscope with no safety net of having any kind of digital editing ability,” Madsen says. “In the end, we began to relax with it and just be who we are.”
“Choosing to record in analogue doesn’t leave room for mistakes, so being as precise as possible with every note was a necessity, not necessarily a luxury,” Macintyre says. “I’m very proud of this album. It’s stripped down, with no fancy studio tricks and really captures a brief moment in time.”
Thus far, The Divorcees’ intuition has served them well. Not only have reviews of From Labour To Refreshment offered glowing insight into the songs and the band behind the music, the band’s newest release also comes on the tenth anniversary of their debut album, You Ain’t Getting My Country.
With the occasional exception such as Chris Stapleton, the bulk of today’s country music has denigrated the genre, rendering it virtually unrecognizable to purists like Madsen and his cohorts.
Although the group’s choice of musical style may hold them back from mainstream success, Madsen has his eye on a bigger and arguably more important prize.
“It’s a love of traditional country music that has kept us together,” he says. “With the music we play, we feel we’re part of a larger community of musicians and fans who share that love. That is something we are happy to be a part of.”
What: The Divorcees CD Release for From Labour To Refreshment
When: Friday July 29 10 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton
Tickets are $10, available at the door.