(5 / 5)
One of my favourite albums of 2017. Yes indeed. Quite something. One of those song collections where it is impossible to second guess what’s coming next, all very eclectic in styles but all sat very snugly together too. One of those times when you think you have heard some of the stuff before, pretty familiar some of it, but you haven’t. All new originals.
This Canadian outfit have got something special going on. They have recently toured the UK with St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Europe with Dr. Dog and XIXA and the US with Tinariwen. Their songs have been featured on a host of top TV shows, including CSI, NCIS, The Good Wife, Blue Bloods and the aptly named TV movie, Lizzie Borden Took An Axe.
A bit of a challenge for me to adequately describe what they do, on paper. You gotta hear it. Also, any comparisons I or my fellow music writers make about this band or their music, will not be the sum of its parts at all. They have their own sound, with possible subtle nods to a few credible and tasty sources. But…A band I love, and who this lot and what they have done on this album reminded me of – in sheer class and creativity- is The Heavy.
You are not likely to forget their name: The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer”. Which is actually two guys; Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers, respectively. “Apocalipstick”, is the follow-up to their 2014 release, “A Real Fine Mess”, which got them a “Blues Album of the Year” nomination from the Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammys) and wins for “Blues” and “Alternative” albums of the year at the WCMAs in 2015. Their previous release, “Checkered Past”, also won them a gong for best blues act of the year at the ‘Sirium XM Indies’ 2013.
Hall and Rogers have added drummer John Raham, from the Be Good Tanyas, and keyboard man Geoff Hilhorst, from The Deep Dark Woods, plus singers Dan Pemberton, Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks, Ben Rogers, Khari Wendell McClelland, Erik Nielsen and Ricardo Khayatte.
Shawn takes the lead vocals and harmonica and Matthew plays Telecaster guitar and “foot percussion”. The record was produced by the pair with John Raham. 13 tracks. All the songs penned by Shawn, Matthew and Ben Rogers.
Shawn has that back of the throat, rasp of a vocal, with some very sweet soulful flavours blended with the gravel and grit. It’s quite an instrument. None more so than on the opener, “Get Ready”, the lyrical content an alert to all sorts of shit coming our way and to be ready for it. Would make a good single, this cut. It’s infectious with a great hook which gets under your skin.
It has that familiar feel to it, like you heard it back in the day and go, “oh, I used to really like this one”, when it comes on the radio, singing along to the first chorus before realising, it is a brand new song to your ears. Some of the best songs ever written will do that. It nails a groove, subtly mixes organic instruments with electronica, dipping into a little dub toward the end of the four minute and 13 second cut.
Like some of the other stuff across this record, this track and how they do what they do, reminded me of the fabulous Alabama 3, the UK band who had big success with the theme song for the smash hit US TV crime drama series, The Sopranos.
“Nancy”, conjures up a Stones feel before a slice of R&B/pop with “Forever Fool”, both songs covering bullying and revenge. I found the lead vocal sat a bit low in the mix, a tad overpowered by the music on this one. “I’m Back” emphasises how really well produced this album is. The backing vocals on this and on the entire CD, add big value and are very well executed.
The 80 mph “Pretty Please”, features up front harmonica, with a back to church gospel testimonial vibe. The whole thing reminded me of the great days of the 1970s pub blues band movement, such as the Hope and Anchor in London’s Islington, and the likes of Red Beans and Rice, Nine Below Zero and Dr Feelgood packing the place with sweat dripping off the walls. Belting out incendiary blues and R&B at full volume. Good song this, with a bit of a punk attitude at its core, perhaps. A future live favourite, I’d bet.
Shawn’s vocal put me slightly in mind of Steve Marriott’s raspy style and very much; another British singer who has a similar delivery, Danny Core. A talented young guy fronting a superb and relatively new band called Broken Witt Rebels. They have recently been signed for an album deal. On “Treat Me Kind”, a country blues ballad about heartbreak, Danny sprang to mind.
This one is stripped down to acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocal, ensemble backing vocals and at two minutes and 26 seconds, was too soon finished. A song in the same territory as Mike d’abo’s 1967 classic “Handbags and Gladrags”.
You’ll be singing the chorus soon after first spin of “Running”. Another one with a Stonesy feel to it is “Promises, Promises”, featuring a dose of bluesy harmonica. A fun, pop offering with “Marianne (20,000 Acres Of Moonlight)”, the most commercial song of the set. Before the fabulous, modern blues approach to the brilliant “Father’s Son”, with an addictive hook and one of the best vocals on the record. Shawn sounding a lot like the great Jonny Lang. Some stinging electric guitar on this one from Matthew.
Only 40 seconds worth of “Situate Yourself”, which has a Joe Cocker style vocal, accompanied by piano, all sat deep in a bed of reverb”. The closer “Fragile”, is an ethereal hark back to the late 60s and the likes of Procol Harum and The Zombies, swirling organ and ‘dreamy’ vocals, leading into an almost classical piano part. It’s a bit of an epic, where the guys weave a textured and hypnotic tapestry; a powerful statement to close with.
“Apocalipstick”, is a a masterclass in how to craft the perfect hook – a chorus that will indelibly embed itself into your head – and how to fuse retro blues and R&B with modern day sounds to create something a bit special and a good bit different to most of what else is out there right now.
Got all the hallmarks of a band and songs that could easily cross over to the mainstream from their current ‘indie’ status, with a bit of luck, the right contacts and a lot of support. One of my new favourite bands.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’