Bluegrass music has had its share of standout musicians who hail from places far from the genre's Southern origins. So it's no surprise that one of the most talked about groups these days comes from way north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The Spinney Brothers, from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, embrace the music's deepest traditional roots, and that's what caught the ear of promoter Mitch Lind, who puts together the lineup for this week's annual Sertoma Youth Ranch Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival. Lind gave one listen to the quartet and was immediately sold on the group.
"They really don't sound like anybody out there today," Lind said. "They have fantastic harmonies that remind you of the classic brother bands like the Stanleys, Jim and Jesse, and the Louvin Brothers. I think our fans are going to enjoy listening to them."
The group, which earned a nomination for the International Bluegrass Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year, will perform two shows Saturday — at 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. — at the Sertoma ranch.
Since becoming a full-time act three years ago, the Spinney Brothers have garnered quite a bit of attention. Their current album, No Borders, occupies the No. 4 position on a national bluegrass chart and has yielded two top 10 songs.
"It's a thrill for us," said Rick Spinney, 45, earlier this week. "When you go into the music business, you dream that you'll do well and that people will like you enough to want to come back and see you again and again. We were lucky to find a comfortable niche in a relatively short amount of time."
Unlike guitarist brother Allan, 42, who began performing at an early age, Rick Spinney didn't pick up the banjo until he was 21. But he was well acquainted with bluegrass, thanks to his mother, who was a fan of Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs. Growing up in a region where the music has had a strong foothold since the 1970s, the brothers often got to see many of bluegrass' top stars perform.
Rick and Allan debuted their band in 1992, showcasing a tight brother duet vocal style that was immediately recognized for its energetic and distinctive sound. Soon, they were performing at some of the largest festivals in Canada. Through the years, band members have come and gone, but Rick Spinney believes the current lineup with mandolinist Gary Dalrymple and bass player Adam Pye delivers the most potent sound the band has had.
"Playing with them is pretty effortless," Rick Spinney said. "Every time we go on stage, it's a tremendous amount of fun for us."
Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of the Spinneys' career has been recognition of their talents as songwriters. Their original material draws from a variety of sources, and many of their songs take inspiration from the mostly rural surroundings where they grew up in eastern Canada. No Borders — their tenth recording — includes seven original tunes by band members.
"Writing our own material has really helped to give us a distinctive sound," Rick Spinney said. "It's something I hope we'll get better and better at as time goes along."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.