Tiller’s Folly’s inspired by life on the road

For the title of their latest album, Surrey and White Rock-based acoustic roots giants Tiller’s Folly borrowed an evocative phrase from Frank Delaney’s epic novel, Ireland.

Indeed, Go The Road – as a description of the lifestyle of the itinerant storyteller – fits the prolific band’s singer-songwriter Bruce Coughlan – and bandmates Laurence Knight (bass) and Nolan Murray (mandolin) to a T.

For them, the road has travelled historic byways of B.C. and the Pacific Northwest; followed Celtic roots all the way back to Scotland and is now, thanks to new manager Brian Smith of Georgia’s Leadership Artists, forging connections with classic American roots styles in heartland USA.

That the road also has a few local loops is admirably illustrated by two special album release concerts, including live video recording, March 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios (1328 Johnston Rd.).

Joining Tiller’s Folly for the events will be three artists of international repute who also happen to call the Peninsula home: keyboardist Doug Johnson (of Loverboy), famed videographer Gene Greenwood and award-winning studio engineer Ron Cote.

“Gene was picked up on a Stones tour right out of high school in North Van,” said band spokesperson Knight. “He’s worked with everybody in the music business. Even NASCAR wanted him to do a video for them, and he lives right in our neighbourhood.

“And Ron, who did the DVD we shot live at the Cannery in Richmond – A Fine Kettle of Fish – recorded a couple of Stevie Ray and Chilliwack records.”

Johnson is a long-time friend and musical associate, Knight said.

“Doug and I are good buddies, and he was kind enough to ask me to join a jam band he has with Don Wells – we get together a couple of times a month, schedules permitting, to play jazz standards and Steely Dan tunes.”

Johnson will fill in some of the piano and string sounds which, thanks to the multi-talented producer Joby Baker of Victoria, are found on the album.

“Doug is such an incredible musician – he was going to play on three songs and now he’s playing six,” said Knight, who added one will be a special piano feature for the versatile Johnson.

“We picked on a tune where Doug’s going to burn – an old Bob Wills piece called Panhandle Rag, on which Doug can get some of his chops out. We’re excited.”

Aim of the two sessions at Blue Frog is to produce four or five ‘viral’ videos and perhaps provide material for an eventual DVD release, Knight said.

The Go The Road album, itself, has a series of guest artists that have been described as “a who’s who of acoustic music.”

Foremost among them are John Cowan (currently of the Doobie Brothers) and Sam Bush, both of Newgrass Revival.

“We caught up to the band late, but they became a favourite of Tiller’s Folly in the early 2000s,” Knight said.

“To have Sam and John singing together for the first time in years, with Bruce, is a real thrill.” Other guest star turns on Go The Road include accordionist and Scottish Music Hall of Fame member Phil Cunningham, ace Dobro player Randy Kohrs, singer Cia Cherryholmes (of the Cherryholmes), frequent Bush and Cowan band members Scott Vestal and Jeff Autry, Josh Shilling (Mountain Heart) and Ronnie McCoury (The Del McCoury Band, The Travellin’ McCourys).

The guest list came together quite naturally and organically out of contacts the band has made on the U.S. scene, Knight said, spurred by the fact that their original choice for a fourth band member for the album, a local guitarist, “had some kind of life-altering change and cancelled out.”

Knight said the band is amazed and flattered that so many artists insisted they wanted to participate in their music.

But next week’s concerts will definitely shine the spotlight on the core and heart of Tiller’s Folly – the combined talents of Coughlan, Nolan and Knight, who have worked together for 12 years now.

Knight acknowledges he has stepped up his game by playing upright bass on all of the tracks, at the urging of producer Baker.

“He’s such a talented guy, he’s the reason I hung up my producer’s hat,’ he said.

The album also benefits from Nolan’s “musicality,” Knight said, noting that he recently had a ‘Mando-caster’ – essentially an electronic mandolin – handmade for him.

“We thought he played fast before – now he’s just burning,” Knight said.

“And Bruce constantly challenges us with new repertoire. He’s writing so many songs now and to such a high level, that the record really came together quickly.”

Tickets ($35) are available from 604-542-3055, or www.bluefrogstudios.ca