Canada’s Brock Zeman has steadily pursued his career over the course of 11 albums, several of which we’ve featured on Blabber’n’Smoke or over on Americana UK. While he’s ranged musically from dusty ballads to hard-bitten country from album to album his lyrics have consistently impressed proving him to be a fine storyteller with a firm handle on vivid sketches of hard living and lovelorn regret. Pulling Your Sword Out Of The Devil’s Back maintains this standard and shows Zeman continuing to grow in confidence with several of the songs benefiting from additional instrumentation and tight, almost poppy arrangements which has led to the album getting several radio plays from UK Roots music radio shows.
The album opens with the feverish spoken word title song as Zeman describes his songwriting process with a passion. “I live in a house full of ghosts that just won’t let me be. I let ‘em in myself, but now I can’t get ‘em to leave. I’m haunted by love” before stating “It’s just heart to tongue, tongue to hand, blah, blah, blah, and struggle.” Referencing the song itself he says “there’s no chorus in this one it’s ugly and it’s wrong, there’s no melody so you won’t be able to sing along. No pretty little voice like the angels singing low pushed through pretty little lips in a pretty package wrapped up in a pretty little bow” The irony here is that for the remainder of the album Zeman wraps the songs in melodies, keyboards, strings and synths and even some female harmonies while the song itself blossoms from its initial guitar and violin cushion into a full blown anthemic thrash.
Walking In The Dark which follows is a fine demonstration of Zeman’s new found melodic sensibility as the song uncurls like a Springsteen drama with some sparkling guitars bouncing off of the slick beat. Zeman half speaks and the lyrics are full of neon lit street life images on a rumination of the revelations available to late night dog walkers. Sweat is a funky low rider of a song that sounds like Johnny Dowd backed by The Ohio Players with Zeman getting down and dirty on the vocals. In contrast Don’t Think About You Anymore is a string driven threnody while Some Things Stay is almost power pop with its insistent beat. Towards the end of the album Zeman pulls out two crackers. Little Details harks back to 1980’s rolled up cuffs and big quiffs on brat pack movies but does so with an attractive and pulverising insistence that draws the listener in. Dead Man’s Shoes also seems to be trapped back in the eighties but the template here is Elvis Costello and his excavations of sixties pop on Get Happy.
Zeman winds the album up with the flipside of the opening song. Instead of the writing process he enquires of the listener what they are listening to on their radio on Everybody Loves Elvis.
Overall Pulling Your Sword Out of The Devil’s Back is less immediate (and less rootsy) than Zeman’s previous work but its layerings and variety grow on you after a while and deserve some delving into.