In many ways, this blog would not exist without Joel Plaskett. It was his electrifying (and electrified) performance in Parry Sound, ON, in May 2015 that elevated our love for Canadian music from passive enjoyment to active, even crazy (to hear our coworkers talk) fandom. So when Plaskett announced that he was releasing a new project with his father, Bill, we were terrifically excited. Now that the CD is in our hands, I can confirm that it not only meets but exceeds our hopes and expectations.
Lyrically and thematically, “Solidarity” fits well not only with Joel Plaskett’s previous solo release, “The Park Avenue Sobriety Test,” but also his 2009 release “Three” (which also featured Bill Plaskett’s tremendous guitar playing). The first track, “Dragonfly,” begins wistfully enough with a quiet lyric from Joel, but longtime fans will immediately find their place with the sudden entrance of Joel’s trademark electric guitar sound midway through the song.
“The Next Blue Sky,” which was the second song previewed prior to the album’s release, quickly became my favorite with the absolutely fabulous bouzouki solo at the end. (Both Bill and Joel are credited with bouzouki, so I look forward to finding out whose playing that is when we see them live in April.) The lyrics explore a theme that has frequently appeared in Joel’s music over the years: leaving the familiar environs of home for the bigger, presumably more inviting “next blue sky” – which may or may not in fact be better after all.
Bill Plaskett takes the singing lead with the first verse of the next track, “We Have Fed You All for 1000 Years.” As Bill says in the liner notes, while the lyrics were originally composed over one hundred years ago, they are certainly still current in this day and age of increasing strife and widening inequality.
Building on the political incisiveness of “Captains of Industry” from “P.A.S.T.,” “Blank Cheque” is an angry meditation by Joel on greed and the abuse of power, inspired (according to the liner notes) in part by the U.S. election cycle last fall.
“Help Me Somebody Depression Blues,” written and sung by Bill, is a great throwback to 1960s protest music, and also provides a great showcase for Bill’s terrific fretwork, as does the traditional tune “Jim Jones,” which recounts the tale of a criminal transported to Australia in the early 1800s.
This absolutely lovely album closes with “On Down the River,” also written and sung by Bill. Being married to someone who migrated across the ocean (as did Bill Plaskett), this song really resonated with me, for its simultaneous wistfulness for the old home and determination to reach the new one.
For me, the very best albums leave the listener with sadness after the last track – not because the songs themselves were necessarily sad, but because the album has to end. This was one such album and it will be on constant play for the next several weeks, I suspect. We look forward to hearing Bill and Joel Plaskett perform these terrific songs live in Hamilton this April.