Review: Newport Electric, “Thin Wild Mercury”

Newport Electric - Thin Blue Mercury

Winding down well into the latter half of 2018, there remains no shortage of great new album releases within the Canadian folk-rock genre.  We recently heard from John Couture, lead singer/guitarist from Newport Electric, who was very excited to share news of the bands most recent release.  Remember when Bob Dylan shocked the world in 1965?  For five musicians in and around London, ON, they not only remember; they took their name from the very event, and thus, in 2014, Newport Electric were born.  After their 2015 “So It Goes” album drew both local acclaim and following, the band have just completed their sophomore album, released on June 22nd in a celebration concert held at London’s Aeolian Hall.

Joining John Couture in forming Newport Electric are Steve Sinclair (lead guitar),Dusty MacMillan (bass), Adam Plante (keyboards) and Roger Osmond (percussion).  “Our sound is heavily influenced by 60s and 70s artists [that] they all grew up listening to,” explains John, “Fans of [Bruce] Springsteen, Neil Young, Blue Rodeo and The Rolling Stones will have plenty to enjoy here.”  Having spent several hours this week enjoying “Thin Wild Mercury” for myself, there are indeed some elements of a Springsteen influence, though this is more of the “Born To Run” era as opposed to the “Born In The USA” era (not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion).  At the heart of this album, however, is some incredible originality, outstanding musicianship and carefully crafted lyrics across all ten folk-rock tracks on offer.

As the opening track, “Dancing To The Beat Of Your Broken Heart” delivers that first impression, one that will determine whether the album is worthy of your time.  With a great opening guitar riff, Couture’s gravelly vocals quickly earn your attention.  Surrounded by some wonderful bursts of organ, the track establishes a positive early tone, drawing upon those influences of yester-year, yet remaining fresh with some wondrous modern melodies.  This particular listener was more than appreciative of the brief flirtation with a ‘prog-rock’ sound as the track builds to a climax, only to be wowed furthermore by an incredibly smooth organ solo that fades this one out to a close.  If you crave more of that organ, skip a few tracks to “Safe & Warm,” where an organ and violin introduction dictate an upbeat folk-country sound.  This rapidly builds into the quintessential toe-tapper, allowing all five musicians to shine.  Adding pedal steel, accordion, and some great piano down the stretch, it falls to drummer Roger Osmond to end this one with a bang, banging those skins into submission and clearly enjoying his momentary time in the spotlight.

It only takes a few spins of “Thin Wild Mercury” to detect a recurring ‘railroad’ theme, with several references made across tracks such as “Brakeman” and “My Sweet Love.” With some haunting piano and an increased emphasis on the vocals during “Brakeman,” it is the outstanding harmonica work from Couture that accentuates the railroad theme; intensifying his mouth organ to replicate a steam locomotive as it gathers speed.  Go ahead and jump to “The Mighty River,” and you too may pick up on the Neil Young influences here.  Skip back a few tracks to “Shake Yer Blues (Mary Wake Up)” and listen for the simple rhythm and chord progression synonymous with the earlier works of Blue Rodeo.  Indeed, the dual-vocal delivery on this particular track shares many traits with some of the popular Keelor/Cuddy compositions (“Til I Am Myself Again” springs to mind here).

Naturally, there are two tracks here on “Thin Wild Mercury” that stand out in particular for me.  Defined by a tongue-in-cheek crackling mono introduction, “Two Outlaws Ride” not only tells the tale of a great road adventure, but becomes a great road adventure.  Tales of journeys from Carolina to Texas, with Colorado, Montana and Arizona thrown in for good measure, our outlaws are accompanied by some dramatic guitar riffs, and a well timed (and completely intentional) guitar solo to which Keith Richards would be truly proud.  Add in some pedal steel and fiddle down the stretch, and this one became a firm favorite for repeated listening.  “Tail Lights Fade” is another standout track here.  Combining a little country with some blues thrown in for good measure, the introduction drew immediate comparisons to City and Colour for me.  The added vocal echo effects not only create a unique sound, but blend well with yet another top-notch guitar solo courtesy of Steve Sinclair.  Cue the return of the pedal steel for added emotional depth, and a truly phenomenal harmonica solo to close, “Tail Lights Fade” could easily become one of your favorite tracks here too.

Describing their music as “folk stained rock,” Newport Electric are indeed not quite folk, but not quite rock.  Finding their musical groove sitting between the genres, the band incorporates the best of both to create their own unique sound.  Their influences are obvious.  Their originality is outstanding.  With this high quality production comes a sense that this is a band that very much enjoy what they are doing, and an even stronger feeling that they are a spectacle to behold when performing live.  If only we’d known about Newport Electric prior to the release of this album, and could have found a way to be a part of that Aeolian Hall show.  John Couture informed us that Newport Electric are working hard to be your second favorite band.  With music of this quality and magnitude, they could very well challenge many for the tagline of becoming ‘your new favorite band.’  Strongly recommended.

Preview and buy “Thin Wild Mercury” on Bandcamp.

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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