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Ian Robb, Ann Downey and Shelley Posen discovered their collective sound almost by accident in 1991, when they happened to be sitting together at a song swap, and unsuspectingly launched into the chorus of a song together. The resulting blend of voices and harmony lines convinced them that they should start singing together, and they have since delighted concert and festival audiences across North America and the UK with that glorious sound.
Ian, originally from London, England, is renowned as one of North America's most gifted performers of British folksong, a concertina player extraordinaire, charter member of Toronto's award winning band, “The Friends of Fiddler's Green”, and composer of folk standards such as the pub anthem "The Old Rose and Crown."
Ann, who hails from the southwestern U.S., plays guitar, banjo, and bass, and has performed in bands playing old-time and cowboy music, bluegrass, klezmer, jazz, and swing in North America and Europe.
Shelley, a professional folklorist and native of Toronto, is a versatile singer and multi instrumentalist who has spent a lifetime researching, teaching, writing about, performing, and sometimes composing songs.
The variety of these individual musical backgrounds makes for one of the distinctions of a Finest Kind performance -- the exhilarating mix of repertoire. British, American, Irish, and Canadian traditional ballads keep company with gospel rousers, drinking songs, sea shanties, and pop oldies. The timeless works of the Carter Family, the Copper Family, Rudyard Kipling, and Hank Williams mingle with originals by Ian or Shelley. Unencumbered by allegiances to any one style, Finest Kind presents the hand-picked best of many genres, and keeps audiences wondering just what delight they'll hear next.
Ah yes, the name... Well, it's an east coast expression of approval: “How's the fishing today?” “Finest kind, b'y”. Translation: "Some good"; "fair dinkum"; "pretty cool"... it depends where you're from.
Or, as Canadian songwriter David Francey wrote after watching the trio at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival,
"Finest Kind's set on the Saturday night was a flawless piece of work, an extraordinary melding of history and song. Three of the finest voices in Canada singing about our past and filling the dark and still air with soaring, glorious harmonies.”
Finest Kind indeed.
Shelley (Sheldon) Posen:Vocals and guitar.
Ann Downey: Vocals, bass, banjo and guitar
Ian Robb: Vocals and concertina
(occasionally) James Stephens: fiddle, mandolin.
Finest Kind: Feasts & Spirits FAM07 (2004)
Finest Kind: Silks & Spices FAM05 (2003)
Finest Kind: Heart's Delight FAM03 (1999)
Finest Kind: Lost in a Song FAM02 (1996)
Finest Kind: Live review, UK tour 2006
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(Excerpted) Grand Harmony Concert - Assembly Rooms, Derby - 4th June 2006 Grand idea that - to...(Excerpted)
Grand Harmony Concert - Assembly Rooms, Derby - 4th June 2006
Grand idea that - to bring over from Canada that exceedingly fine (and still criminally unsung) trio Finest Kind, and then garnish certain of their tour dates with appearances from tried-and-trusted harmony ensembles from this fair land...
...Good though the first half was, the second half was stunning - and of course it belonged to Finest Kind. If I had a pound for every time I've heard someone say "who?" when I mentioned the name. but I'm sure the name has been on many more lips since this concert. Finest Kind is a well-balanced little ensemble consisting of Ian Robb (London-born, uncommonly fine singer and concertina player extraordinaire), Ann Downey (from the southwestern US, she of the characterful voice and with a strong background in oldtime and bluegrass as well as folk music) and Shelley Posen (Toronto-based folklorist, excellent singer, versatile multi-instrumentalist and occasional songwriter). Together they present their chosen (and uncommonly wide-ranging) material with real dynamism and a relaxed, unforced sense of humour, bringing a superbly fresh approach to songs you thought you'd heard enough of as well as introducing us to songs we absolutely ought to know. Sensibly-paced delivery, robust and intelligently phrased singing, supremely well thought-out harmonising in a captivating blend that, although finely judged, never sounds contrived or artificial. You can tell at once that their passion and conviction is true, springing directly from their response to the song and not bolted on as a device to impress an audience. They impress as much with the vitality of their reinterpretation of familiar
pieces from our English folk culture (Fair Maid Walking, Shepherd Of The Downs, John Barleycorn) as with the gutsy commitment and depth of understanding they bring to slices of folk culture from across the pond whether it's Dylan's Times They Are A-Changin', or a Marty Robbins song, or Fa-Sol-La (Shelley's spirited homage to the shape-note singing tradition). Oh, and though it might seem a little out of place to remark on instrumental prowess in the context of a three-piece harmony group who perform a significant majority of their songs acappella, somehow you don't mind a bit when midway through a set they pick up, say, guitar and double bass and with no fuss (and no tiresome lengthy bouts of tuning!) they pitch straightway nto a Hank Williams number - and proceed to do it better than many a specialist country band! Then later on, Shelley proves he can also turn out an original, classy "doomed industry" song in the best folk tradition (No More Fish); and perhaps only a group of the calibre of Finest Kind could follow that opus with a delightfully rollicking version of Peter Bellamy's Kipling setting A Pilgrim's Way to conclude their enormously varied close-on-an-hour-long set. Throughout which, I must stress, the qualities of the individual and combined voices were a wonder to behold; many folks left open-mouthed (and loaded down with the group's CDs!) and vowing to sign up for another date on the group's frustratingly brief UK tour.
And then, as if that impressive set weren't enough, back onstage trooped the six singers we'd heard in the first half to add their voices to those of Finest Kind for a short series of quasi-impromptu encores (OK, we didn't quite get nine-part harmony, but the effect was often quite stunning and always great fun). First, Bright Shining Morning was given a stirring rendition as a tribute to Swan Arcade's Dave Brady (the news of whose recent tragic death had been announced only days before the concert), then Mick Peat was pressganged onto the stage to add a tenth voice part to a deliciously strung-out version of Bully In The Alley. A "portmanteau" rendition of Only Remembered (bringing together two quite different variants), and then - inevitably? - John Tams' Rolling Home (albeit shorn of a couple of verses) brought the official proceedings to a rousing, hearty close. We couldn't let them go however, and an easygoing singalong runthrough of the Shirelles' hit Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? was an ideal way of playing us out.
What a concert! Before I run out of space though, a final word of praise must go to the guy manning the sound-desk for the excellent quality of the amplified sound in the hall of the comfortably full Darwin Suite, for he really had the measure of the blended and individual voices of all the participants right from the word go. Whatever, this enraptured audience certainly got its fill of superlative, nay exemplary singing - and so will you if you get to catch Finest Kind performing live. Then, the next time mention of Finest Kind elicits the usual response ("never heard of 'em!") you too will be ready to sing their praises! Don't forget, too, that their latest CD Silks And Spices is now available in the UK at long last (on ADA Recordings).
Finest Kind: Silks & Spices
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I already have two albums by this trio from Canada, both of them delightful, so I expected something...I already have two albums by this trio from Canada, both of them delightful, so I expected something good from this one. I got it! Finest Kind have scored a hat trick with a skilfully sung programme of songs ranging from the Copper Family to the Shirelles via Marty Robbins, Bob Dylan, and others.
Finest Kind comprise founder-member Ian Robb, English-born singer and concertina player; Ann Downey, American singer/banjo/guitarist, and Canadian folklorist Shelley Posen, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Each one brings something of their individual taste to the repertoire though they do not mix their album material for the sake of variety alone. Their choices seem to me to be well thought out on the basis of creating a balanced, varied, and enjoyable experience for the listener. Not as common as one might think.
The bulk of the songs on this particular album are from English tradition, sung unaccompanied. If that sounds daunting to any of you let me tell you that what you hear here is, in my opinion, the way to sing these songs. The harmonies are close without being cloying, the keys fresh and lively, and the pace chosen for each song is exemplary. All those groups who drag a mournful way through their songs should listen to the way Finest Kind attack theirs. No dirges, no "slowing down to lethargy", but a tempo that allows the text to shine through without losing scope for appropriate harmonising. Furthermore, and top marks in my book, the melody is always clearly defined no matter what clever harmonies are going on.
Each one of the singers is a good soloist, very good actually, and where instruments are used they add to the whole without intrusion. Guest musician James Stephens deserves a tip of the hat for his work on fiddle, mandolin and viola. Rather than picking out individual items I simply recommend every track on this joyous album. Finest Kind give me the feeling that they would sing with as much zest in my kitchen as they might on some lofty concert stage. I like them, and 'Silks & Spices' very much. Please come over here asap.
Finest Kind: Silks & Spices
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A group name that accurately describes its artistry is a boon to a reviewer. This third CD by Shelle...A group name that accurately describes its artistry is a boon to a reviewer. This third CD by Shelley Posen, Ian Robb and Ann Downey noticeably surpasses their excellent previous efforts. Their harmonies are tighter, the material more diverse and the overall sound more infectious. Where else are you going to hear the Copper Family meets Carol King? Of the 15 songs on the CD, self-produced with the aid of James Stephens, 10 are traditional. Most are unaccompanied; Stephens spices a few with fiddle, viola, mandolin and/or guitar. Finest Kind represents the future of traditional music. As the originators pass away, Finest Kind not only maintains the songs, but also brings them to life in styles appealing to a wider range of ears. They don't betray the tradi- tion, they just add a bit of sparkle to it.
None of this would work if they didn't possess fine voices that splendidly fit to- gether. They take these voices and work them to perfection. They perform a tasty sampling of traditional songs. The real corker is hearing them sing Marty Robbins , "At the End of a Long, Lonely Day," and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" by Goffen and King. They even do their re- write of the old de facto Canadian national anthem "The Maple Leaf Forever," making it more inclusive for all Canadians. One of the most pleasant surprises is their stirring interpretation of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." They were inspired to record it when they heard it used in a jingle for a Canadian bank. They decided it needed a serious resurrection since the song remains timely. The title Silks and Spices describes their music, their voices and the overall feel of this CD.
Finest Kind: Heart's Delight
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This is the second recording from "Finest Kind", the Ottawa based trio of Ian Robb, Ann Downey and S...This is the second recording from "Finest Kind", the Ottawa based trio of Ian Robb, Ann Downey and Shelley Posen. Although this could really count as the second and a bit, since Ann Downey and Shelley Posen also appeared on Ian Robb's excellent album, "From Different Angels". In the tradition of the trio's previous recordings this is an accumulation of fine songs, some fairly old and some fairly new, including material written by Shelley Posen and Ian Robb.
The band's inbuilt mix of old world and new world cultures explores both the contrasts and similarities of songs and singing styles. Among those credited as "sources" or "by way of" are Norma Waterson, David Parry, The Delmore Brothers, Louis Killen, Keith Marsden, Any Old Time String Band, Francis J. Child, Martin Carthy and Hank Williams. The songs themselves are as diverse as their origins but sit well together in the final mix. "Brig Fair", "If You Can't Get Five, Take Two", "A Sailor's Life", "Who Will Sing for Me", "Jack Ashton" - all differing in theme and content but linked by arrangements that bring out the heart of each song. This is further demonstrated in Shelley Posen's, "No More Fish, No Fishermen" and Ian Robb's powerful, "Homeless Wassail". Both strong songs of protest against resigned acceptance of the homeless or unemployed "ways of life" in which a growing number are finding themselves trapped.
Three rewarding singers, rich harmonies, a vocal sound that'll raise the hairs on the back of your neck and a batch of good songs make this as good a deal as you can get on a CD. No news as yet of any forthcoming UK appearances but "Finest Kind" are high on my "must see" list.
Finest Kind: Lost in a Song
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Ian Robb's From Different Angels was one of my favorite albums of 1994, due in no small part to the ...Ian Robb's From Different Angels was one of my favorite albums of 1994, due in no small part to the glorious vocal harmonies from his trio, Finest Kind. Now the group has its own CD, and again the result will be high on my best-of-the-year list.
Besides Ian, Finest Kind's members are Shelley Posen and Ann Downey. All three are strong singers with diverse tastes and influences, so the repertoire ranges from the Copper Family to the Carter family. (Though they're all in Ottawa now, Ian was born in England, Ann in the Southwestern U.S., and Shelley in Toronto.)
Eight of the 17 tracks are sung a cappella, the group's specialty. Some are the sorts of British traditional songs that are typical a cappella fare -"The Banks of Sweet Primroses", "Gower Wassail"- but Finest Kind applies that technique to all sorts of material. Their harmonies almost sound like a barbershop quartet on the sentimental numbers "The Miner's Dream Of Home" and "A Handful of Maple Leaves." On the other hand their breathless speed on "The Night Pat Murphy Died" suits that slapstick tale of a raucous wake. Shelley's original "Fa-So-La" describes (and demonstrates) the beauty of sacred harp singing. One of the surprises on Ian's last album was Finest Kind's a cappella rendition of Stan Rogers' "Mary Ellen Carter". This time they do Utah Phillips' "Goodnight Loving Trail" that way, and it works beautifully.
As stunning as Finest Kind's a cappella harmonies are, they don't limit themselves to that style. The accompanied tracks range from more British songs - "Sussex Drinking Song", Peter Bellamy's splendid setting of Kipling's "A Pilgrim's Way"- to some nice country-ish and cowboy songs. Ian's concertina is featured on the English stuff, though it also fits (taking the place of, say, a harmonica) in the Western classic "Blue Mountain". Ann sings lead and frails the banjo on "Going To The West" (with another concertina break). Shelley plays guitar and Ann plays bass throughout the album, with occasional guests on fiddle and mandolin.
The musicianship is fine, but the singing is what makes this album special. Check out the intertwining parts on "Give Me Just A Little More Time", a swell gospel number learned from E.C. and Orna Ball. Enjoy how "Pat Murphy" keeps modulating higher (and getting faster) as the story gets wackier. Bask in Ann and Shelley's old-time duet harmonies on "I Heard The Bluebird Sing". The whole thing is a delight.
Given the time and care that have obviously gone into this recording, I hope it's not too greedy to ask for a second helping - and soon! Meanwhile, don't miss this gem.
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(Excerpted from David Kidman's review of the 2008 Derby Traditional Music and Arts Festival, in Derb...(Excerpted from David Kidman's review of the 2008 Derby Traditional Music and Arts Festival, in Derby, UK.
The Living Tradition issue 83, May/June 2009.)
...Onto the Saturday, whose principal menu comprised a series of concerts with the superlative harmonies of Canadian trio Finest Kind acting as the binding thread from noon till evening (and stringing along on into the Sunday). lan Robb, Ann Downey and Shelley Posen together make one of the most captivating acts on the scene: each has an excellent singing voice, they sound exceptionally well together, and their choice of material is both wide-ranging and enterprising, with a typical set tntermingling well-loved traditional songs sourced from the likes of the Copper Family,early bluegrass numbers (Stanley Brothers, Carter Family et al.), original songs (often with a political conscience) by contemporary writers (some self penned) and other quirky songs from the American traditions. It says much that over the course of the whole weekend Finest Kind only repeated one song (and one of their favourite encores, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow...). Every time they appeared, the audiences were eating out of their hands, you might say – feeding voraciously and enthusiastically on the trio's tasty, fresh and vital reinterpretations...
Finest Kind's typical concert consists of two sets of around 50 minutes each. They cover a broad repertoire of old and new songs as described in the bio, and perform many of these songs in a cappella three part harmony.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.