Within four or five bars of the opening track of Real Ponchos’ “To the Dusty World,” a listener (at least of a certain age, like me) will likely be strongly reminded of 1970s Southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd. However, after several listens to the album I now believe that the influences and styles are far more complex and varied – some prog rock (a la Pink Floyd) and even some jazz.
The Vancouver-based group’s last full-length album, “Since I Let You Go,” laid the foundations for the type of anthemic rock that Real Ponchos do so well, but “To the Dusty World” realizes the blueprint in all its fullness. There are only seven tracks, but they clock in at an average of six minutes – anthemic indeed, with plenty of time in each song to fully explore their themes (again, as a welcome nod to the days when radio length wasn’t such a priority).
“Flatline Rose” begins as a lovely, danceable waltz tune (sung by Emile Scott, who shares lead vocal duties on the album with Ben Arsenault), but a bridge reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” surprises the listener, morphing the song into a common-meter rock anthem featuring harmonies from both lead singers.
“Stillness” – the longest song on the album at nearly 10 minutes, and a particular highlight for me – begins with an instrumental opening that, curiously enough, reminds me of some of the best work from the smooth jazz group Acoustic Alchemy. As soon as Arsenault begins to sing, however, the song transitions into a perfect, brooding meditation on stillness and the fear of being lost (“easy to forget / easy to pretend / stop to focus on impermanence again”).
The album also includes two terrific instrumentals. “Passing Through” reminds me (inexplicably) of mornings driving across the Plains at sunrise – it possesses that same sense of a quiet start and a gradual build to splendor. “To the Dusty World” closes the album with the most explicit nod to a prog rock heritage, starting quietly but building to an intense finish.
Every song on this project is first-rate with terrific singing and top-notch playing, particularly from collaborator Marc Jenkins, who contributes some fabulous pedal steel. If you enjoy great rock sounds, this album is highly recommended. It’s definitely going on my regular playlist, and I hope that the group will come east at some point in the near future so we can hear them live.
Photo credit: Tayu Hayward