Back in 2010 we liked Sleepy Driver’s debut album, Steady Now, mentioning the surge of guitar and organ that propelled the songs and likening them to the old “Paisley underground” bands. Two years on and they’ve maintained their thrust with a strong selection of songs that veer away from the slight country sounds on the debut moving somewhat into the mainstream. Having garnered numerous awards in their native Canada including single and album of the year it appears that they’re determined to repeat these feats with the result that In A Low Dark Light is a smoother, shinier beast than its predecessor. While some of the country elements remain particularly on Silverback Dog and Long Time Coming Home which features the fine pedal steel playing of guest Dave Palmer the primary deal here is a big punchy sound, melodic with occasional Neil Young/Crazy Horse chunks thrown in. While Peter Hicks writes and sings all of the songs the star of the show is guitarist Ethan Young-Lai who towers throughout the album with biting, piercing, squalling and corkscrewing solos that may at times hark back to the seventies but pack a tremendous punch.
Arlan Feiles & The Broken Hearted. Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers.
Arlan Feiles has a colourful back-story of near brushes with fame and encounters with the likes of Levon Helm, Tom Dowds, Chris Blackwell and Dave Grohl. His 2007 album, Come Sunday Morning, found him in a New York state of mind with a set of songs played solo that recalled the spirit of Springsteen with a dash of Phil Ochs and was rightly hailed as a breakthrough. He returns here, tooled up with his band The Broken Hearted, with a grittier, hard edged sound that complements his somewhat sardonic take on life. In fact the album sounds what one might imagine Steely Dan might have sounded like if they had forgone the jazz sheen and remained funky. Feiles’ keyboards lead the songs but Joel Schantz’s guitar provides the muscle especially on the impressive Hard Line. Although Feiles has a tendency to lapse into a generic piano ballad style on a few songs elsewhere he produces the goods. Katie Truly is a misleadingly jaunty soul inspired hop camouflaging a burnt out guy who has “been taking down minutes and minutes of bullshit.” The ensemble playing here is spectacular as the band lock down into a groove and there’s even a weird Beatles feel to some of the instrumentation and the backing vocals. Viola, a revisit of a song from Come Sunday Morning and inspired by Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a sixties civil rights activist shot dead by Klansmen captures some of the spirit of the late Levon Helm. Feiles throws in a curve ball with the closing song Mix Tape, a bizarre talking blues that tells of how Bono from U2 saved a relationship. Odd but affecting.
The Mystix. Mighty Tone.
The Mystix are a grizzled bunch of veterans who between them have played with a galaxy of musicians including Mary J. Blige, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gary Burton, Duke Robillard, John Hammond, Edgar Winter, Duke Robillard, Susan Tedeschi and Peter Wolf. As can be surmised their chops are together and much of the fun to be had on this, their fourth album, is simply listening to a great bunch of musicians locking into a groove and bouncing off of each other. The other delight is in front man Jo Lily’s vocals which accommodate Chicago style blues and Opry styled country effortlessly.
The album is described as a journey into “the past of Americana music, from the minstrel era to the white & black blues of the 20′s, to the powerful spiritual songbook,” and features covers of Jimmie Rogers, Ernest Tubbs, Pop Staples and Willie Dixon along with two traditional songs and three originals. While they have a great time with the self penned country gospel of Mighty Tone which features some fine fiddling and turn in a rollicking rag time Jelly Roll their heart (and soul) is in the blues. Mean Woman Blues and Keep On Walking are embellished primarily with acoustic instruments including Dobro and lap steel and recall the likes of J.J. Cale. However the band are at their best when they limber up and adopt the classic Chicago blues sound. Assisting them in this task is Jerry Portnoy on harmonica who played with Muddy Waters and it’s Muddy’s classic 50’s sides that provide the touchstone here. With slow burning electric guitar which occasionally flashes like a switchblade, biting harp and piano flourishes they transport the listener to the glory days of Chess records. Mighty Love is a spellbinding fix as the band simmer and burn. Wave My Hand struts proudly as Portnoy’s harp squeals while Just To Be With You shows the band at their almost telepathic best. Guitar, harmonica, vocals and piano combine to create a fantastic time machine that transports the listener to a sweaty juke joint on the south side of Chicago circa 1960. Oddly enough it also reminds this listener of Bob Dylan circa Time Out of Mind. Plus ca change.