High energy, fantastic music: Union Duke comes to the SLAS

MORRISBURG – “High energy musicianship, an infectious magnetism, all combined with beautiful harmonies” is the way that St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage president Sandra Whitworth describes the band Union Duke, which will be “making the floorboards tremble” at UCP on Saturday, February 11, at 7 p.m.

“It’s going to be a full show,” Whitworth said, “and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun.”

Jim McDonald (his band mates are Ethan Smith, Matt Warry-Smith, Will Staunton and Rob McLaren) talked to the Leader recently about the group and their unique musical sound.

He laughed, though, when I asked him where the name Union Duke came from.

“I wish we had a good story about that,” McDonald said. “But we were all brain-storming, creating an amalgamation of ideas, and Union Duke just kind of popped out.”

The closeness, the musical compatibility of the members of the band, and the incredible individual talents each performer brings to the table are among the strengths of this group.

“We all bring eclectic tastes to our music,” McDonald said. “We like a bit of everything, and we bring all of this to the writing and composing table.”

In the four professional years since Union Duke was formed, the artists’ willingness to embrace variety may explain why the group is often described as a band successfully and energetically bridging rock, country and traditional bluegrass in their music.

Band members might agree on Blue Rodeo, John Hartford, and Wilco as artists that have influenced them: however “we pick what we like from tons of sources,” McDonald explained.

“What creates our unique sound is our instrumentalization. We generally come to the table with 25-30 songs for an album, which we whittle down to 10 or 12.
We tend to write in ones and twos, and each guy has his own style, but we come back to the group to share those ideas. Then we use a ‘democratic’ process for scoring the sound and creating our final songs,” he added.

Sometimes an original melody, sometimes a couple of lines trigger a new song.

“A lot of our songs are based on relationships,” McDonald said. “Several songs are tied to travel. And then,” he added with a laugh, “there’s the guy things, the car and motorcycle songs.”

Each member of the band is an accomplished musician with skills on a number of different instruments. The performers are musically at ease with the ukelele, banjos, harmonicas, guitars, basses, and percussion.

Their instrumentation leads to a powerful and exciting sound when you add smooth and beautiful harmonies to the mix.

The group’s recent album, Golden Days, was released in August.

“Our first two albums were created using separate tracks,” McDonald said.

“However, we felt that approach cost us some of the live energy. For Golden Days we played together, recorded together, to recapture that energy.

We love playing live, seeing how people react, and how we connect with them. Rock may appeal to the younger crowd, folk to the older. Our audiences tend to be eclectic like us, which is great.”

A sense of fun is part of the band’s appeal.

“We are good friends, and we love to play shows together.”

Union Duke is touring cross Canada for the next few months. However, their fan base in the United States and Europe, where they have a lot of digital sales, is growing and international tours, as well as another album, are in the works.

Union Duke is looking forward to rocking the stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, Saturday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.

“We plan to mix up our program with old songs and new ones in the works. Music is very much our lives, and music is the direction we are going,” said Jim McDonald.

Tickets for Union Duke at Upper Canada Playhouse are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Rurban Brewing, the Basket Case, and now also at the Upper Canada Playhouse box office, or on line at The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage.