Valley Wisdom: April Verch honours country legends with latest release

April Verch. Photo: Sadlin Gaither

When April Verch was a kid living in tiny Rankin, Ontario near Pembroke, her father Ralph would always tune in the Wheeling Jamboree on the radio.

That sound was bouncing off the stratosphere and straight into April’s musical heart.

The songs were old-style country performed by legends like Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith. It was a fit for the Verch household.

April has become an award-winning musician after following her love of the fiddle and step-dancing to the Berklee School of Music and into a fulltime professional career. She’s got a dozen albums to her name and she tours a whopping 200-250 dates a year with her trio that includes husband Cody Walters on bass and clawhammer banjo and guitarist Alex Rubin.

She’s releasing her latest record Once A Day on April 12 and planning a big launch party in Nashville.

Unlike most of her records, this CD includes a lot of singing with only a few instrumentals. Nor is there much original music on it — just one fiddle tune. The rest are covers.


“It’s a hard question to answer,” she said over the phone from Asheville, North Carolina where she lives half the year. “Part of it, certainly is me getting brave enough to tackle the music.

“First of all I sing and I have for years but it did come later. I started dancing at three and fiddling at six. I started singing at 20. It did take me that much longer to feel really comfortable with that.

“This is my 12th record and I have sung on other records but most of them have been a mix of styles and more or less what fans expected.”

So this latest CD is definitely a departure.

“The project has been in the back of my mind for awhile. I finally couldn’t put it off any longer. I feel like this is what I’m meant to do.”

She wants to pay homage to the legends of the past, people who have made a mark on the country music industry both in the Ottawa Valley and in Nashville.

“Most of the songs on the record, I listened to as a kid,” but being the perfectionist she is, she felt she had to be able to deliver the tunes well before she committed to recording.

“So I had to dig a little deeper.

“It was also important to  let my fans see a bit of the Ottawa Valley through this album because, growing up in the Pembroke area I was listening to Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith but I was also listening to Howard Hayes and Ron McMunn and Bob King and Lucille Starr.

“To include them would give people a chance to hear their music, that was really important to me.”

Verch also wanted to ensure that more traditional country music was being listened to again.

“This music just needs to have a new life. It’s perfect. I can’t do it better and I don’t know anybody who could. This is the stuff I wanted someone to sing so I thought ‘I’ll just do it’.

“Obviously I am passionate about that music but I think it is timeless and classic for a reason.”

This is the music that many Canadians will remember listening to, she said.

“My dad taught himself how to play by listening to the Wheeling  Jamboree.

“I have talked to other people and they say it’s the music they had at home.” In a way the sound has crossed the border and become Canadian too.

Asheville is in the Blue Ridge Mountains about five hours from Nashville.

April shares a home with her partner there and the couple does have a base in Pembroke as well.

But, “we are on the road a lot.”

The road is a tough life, but April says, “we just find a way. It’s not easy, especially because it’s more business than music, but I feel like this is my calling. It’s what I’m meant to be doing.”

She said she has a different feeling about Once A Day.

“I have never put out a record that I didn’t work really hard at and wasn’t really proud of. But somehow there is a strong emotional connection to the music. Maybe it comes from growing up and hearing my dad play it. A lot of my early performances were with Ottawa Valley legends who had day jobs so they could play music on the weekends.

“Of course you care about how a record does because you need to make sure you can pay back the loan and that everything goes well, but I think less about that this time. I think more about that I really want people to hear it. I really want this music to get its due.”

She was also really lucky to have some “amazing musicians” on the record.

The CD was recorded in Nashville by Bil VornDick and produced by Doug Cox. It features steel guitarist Al Perkins (who worked with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris), guitarist Redd Volkaert (Merle Haggard) and fiddler Kenny Sears (Mel Tillis, Grand Ole Opry).

Having this group working on the project was a bit intimidating, she said.

“They played with these legends and they are in the studio and I was scared to talk to them.”

But it worked out.

“They were going ‘Thank you for having us in here and thank you for playing this music because we don’t get to play it any more’. Things like that kept happening and all of a sudden I knew this was important.”

April says the album won’t tour quite yet.

It will get a big launch in Nashville with a full country band. And she is thinking about future possibilities.

“I’m passionate about it but it also needs to make sense for everybody.”

There’s another Ottawa Valley connection. The album is recorded on April’s label Slabtown Records.

“There is a place called Slabtown. I think it had to do with the lumbering trade and refers to slabs of wood.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.