The Strumbellas’ “In This Life” opens in a combination of the acoustic roll of Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York,” and the rhythmic stomps that punctuate the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.”
The result is a wide-open, call-and-response of bass drum and hand claps, which has led to unintended games of hopscotch when I pump the song through my headphones and travel by foot.
On a Thursday morning in January, none of us can ask for more than that.
Fronted by Simon Ward, the Strumbellas are a six-piece, Canadian stomp-and-holler band that combine high-flying harmonies with reckless bluegrass, an infectious folk with pop sensibilities. From 2013’s We Still Move on the Dance Floors—an album cover that appropriately hangs a disco ball behind a high-reaching mountaintop—“In This Life” is a hopeful anthem for what’s ahead, and a perfect introduction into the freewheeling world of the Strumbellas.
While the Strumbellas often employ a bluegrass wall of sound, they open “In This Life” sparingly, with Ward’s acoustic guitar and cleverly simple lyrics—The streets are filled with demons, Lord, that ain’t ever gonna change/But I still wanna be with everyone—taking the forefront in its verses.
It’s a builder, and the song’s strength lies in its peaks and valleys, where choruses change direction into a combination of bass, violin, and banjo-picker’s paradise. Like the ear-catching foot stomps of the introduction, the back-and-forth of verse and chorus give “In This Life” a freshness that defies the formulaic, and eventually leads to the song’s near-symphonic breakdown, where Izzy Ritchie’s violin is accented by David Ritter’s keys, and Ward distantly repeats, “They’re dancing through the darkness of the night.”
It’s a song in three parts, but a song united, where the the Strumbellas show the full breadth of their abilities.
“In This Life” is a caffeinated punch, a song that makes you want to move on the dance floor, alongside the album’s architects, and on a Thursday morning in January, none of us can ask for more than that.