The Men of Constant Sorrow, The Essential

By Kevin Rothbauer

Tom Phillips and the Men of Constant Sorrow, Calgary’s most recognizable purveyors of traditional country music, are set to release their second album, The Essential. Local roots music lovers are likely already familiar with the band’s Hank Williams/Lefty Frizzell-style songs about beer, women, and their consequences. And while their new cd doesn’t quite capture the spirit of their live shows, it is a good introduction to the group.

The Men of Constant Sorrow occupy a fairly unique niche in Calgary’s music scene. There are a few "new country" bands and plenty of country-rock outfits, but Phillips’ group is one of the few who carry the spirit of country swing from the first half of the century.

"There’s not a lot of roots-country, roots-honky-tonk music out there these days," Phillips says. "I’d say that’s where we fit in."

Born and raised in Calgary, Phillips has been playing gigs steadily since he first graced the bar in Cremona when he was 16. The Men of Constant Sorrow have been together for about five years, playing for the love of music as they each hold down day jobs.

"I was running a jam session at King Henry viii pub on Saturday afternoons and the rest of the guys started coming down," Phillips remembers. "We did it because we like the same kind of music. Our idea was to play the type of music we do just for the love of it."

In case you’re wondering, the band did derive its name from the surprise hit from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but they had been playing under that moniker for a couple of years before the Coen brothers’ brilliant film came out.

"We were drinking and trying to come up with names, and that’s always a really bad idea when you’re drinking. [Our old bass player] said ‘oh, we’re all men of constant sorrow,’ and we said ‘hey man, that’s a good name.’"

The CD release party takes place Wed., Nov. 27 at Ranchman’s, although to get a true feel for the band, they have to be seen in a a more comfortable atomosphere, such as a pub or a roadhouse.

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