Show Review: the Rural Alberta Advantage put their stamp on the Phog

With all apologies to opening band Waker Glass, due to time and hunger, we opted for Ethiopian cuisine before the Rural Alberta Advantage show at Windsor's Phog Lounge on Sun., Mar. 27. As we were savoring Meser Wat, Aziffa and lamb tips with basmati rice among other delicacies at the World Marathon restaurant, we noticed a woman dining by herself. It wasn't until we arrived at the Phog that we realized it was Amy Cole of the Rural Alberta Advantage, enjoying, by her own definition, some "alone" time. It was the last she would get that evening at a show that sold out weeks before.

The Rural Alberta Advantage's folk-on-steroids sound is driven by Paul Banwatt's energetic yet finessed drumming. Banwatt has that rare ability to take sticks and skins and elevate them from mere timekeepers to a full-fledged member of the chorus (Banwatt is also part of the equally popular duo Woodhands, with Dan Werb). Singer/songwriter/guitarist Nils Edenloff has a voice like a plaintive banjo, a heart full of love and longing for places and things of his native Alberta and the talent to bring them to life. Cole's backing vocals, keyboards and assorted other instrumental talents add civilized polish without dulling the edge.

The band's 2009 debut album, Hometowns, was solidly embraced by critics and listeners alike. In stores since Mar. 1, their follow-up, Departing, not only ducks the dubious sophomore curse, but indicates that the band has indeed arrived. Molson Canadian has already scored the single "Stamp" for a TV ad.