Following Steve’s lead from our Snappy Snippets article two days ago, here at Team GDW HQ, we are also self-isolating and currently working from home. But while a global pandemic is keeping many of us from our regular Spring adventures, it is certainly not deterring some of our favorite artists, who continue to create and release albums during these crazy times. We can’t promise to review every new album that comes our way, but here are a fresh trio of releases from the last few months that are worth checking out.
J. R. Proctor, “Daydream Sommelier”
Victoria, BC, singer-songwriter J. R. Proctor released his debut EP of original music back in early March, offering a collection of five songs firmly rooted in an alternative country-folk tradition. “While the songs are influenced by my years spent performing bluegrass and old-time music, they explore themes that extend beyond the confines of any particular genre,” J. R. shares. “Six Days In December uses sparse arrangement and a melodic hook to tell the story of Vince Coleman and the Halifax Explosion.” For history buffs, this particular track depicts the disaster that occurred in Nova Scotia back in 1917, when a French cargo ship laden with high explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel in the upper Halifax Harbour. Through his own words, Proctor paints a haunting picture of this tragedy, and pays homage to the many people that lost their lives on this day: “Now there’s black smoke rising like the hand of god / As the darkness crept in slow / And a scared young kid cried ‘Ammunition ship / This whole place is gonna go.’”
The EP’s opening track, “One White Rose,” kicks off with a nice blast of pedal steel, courtesy of Marc Jenkins (Pharis & Jason Romero), and offers a great country vibe that draws similarities to both Randy Travis and George Strait, at least for me. “There’s an old guitar that hangs by the door / It’s sick of love songs and the same three chords / Sick of singing tunes about walking the floor / There’s an old guitar that hangs by the door,” J.R. recites, once again demonstrating his lyrical flair. For those seeking some great fiddle to go along with the pedal steel, “Golden Embers” shall not disappoint, with violinist Adrian Dolan (Ruth Moody) adding his touch to this great up-tempo tune. “Golden embers / Wash over me / The flames burned through the morning dew where the darkness used to be / Golden embers / Shine your light / Flames stayed on, go till dawn, keep burning till the morning’s bright,” J.R delivers, with a distinct Sammy Kershaw lilt in his voice. Joined by Darrin Weibe (bass) and Jason Cook (drums), and recorded at Marlborough Studios, this EP is a great debut solo offering from J. R. Proctor.
Whitney Rose, “We Still Go To Rodeos”
We are sticking with some more great new country music here, this time from Charlottetown, PEI (currently residing in Austin, TX) singer-songwriter Whitney Rose. It’s been a while since we’ve had the pleasure of hearing new music from Whitney, whose last releases date back to her 2017 “Rule 62” and “South Texas Suite” albums, and with “We Still Go To Rodeos,” her fifth studio album, she shares possibly some of her best work yet. Indeed, this album somehow stayed under the radar for me, only coming to my attention when I stumbled upon her recent single, “Believe Me, Angela,” being aired on satellite radio. With a fusion of vintage guitar twang and some sweet pedal steel, I was drawn in immediately by the noticeable evolution of her signature sound. “I wanna hate your every move, every single inch of you / Call you names and key your car / Reveal the woman that you are / ‘Cause that man was mine / I had his kids, became his wife / I’ll just leave you alone so he / Can do you just like he did me,” she recites, telling us that not only is she back, but definitely means business. “I had this idea of this cheating song that I wanted to write and it started out, you know, angry, and it was taking forever and I just wasn’t into it,” Whitney recently shared in a CBC interview. “I didn’t feel the anger. And then as soon as I had [an] idea to write the song based on unity between the two women, it was written in less than an hour.”
“In A Rut,” also released as a single, shares the same guitar-focused, up-tempo nature that will have your feet tapping instantly, while “You’d Blame Me For The Rain” introduces some great blues guitar riffs and sultrier vocals from Rose. Those seeking the traditional Whitney Rose sound have plenty of options across the album, most notably with both “Through The Cracks” and “Thanks For Trying.” “I’d Rather Be Alone” stands out in particular as the crossroad where her traditional roots intersect with the shift towards rock and roll. Pay attention to the guitar and banjo jamboree that elevates her sound, and the raw emotion in her voice as she delivers the chorus: “Now you don’t even look me / Your rampant gaze goes past me / These days are killing me slowly / I’d rather be alone than lonely.” Nothing can compare you, however, for the completely unexpected smooth jazz overtones of the title track; one that closes the album, and elevates Whitney Rose towards Jill Barber and Sonja Gustafson territory in terms of style and sound. Just in case you missed my point earlier, this is quite possibly some of her best work to date, and one I highly recommend.
Deni Gauthier, “He Said / She Said”
With two country albums already covered, we shift our attention now to some indie folk-rock, and the latest offering from St. Thomas, ON, artist Deni Gauthier. “He Said / She Said” is the long-awaited third album from the former Calgary native, yet one that Gauthier acknowledges is not the ‘pretty’ album he envisioned as the natural successor to his highly acclaimed 2016 “Passenger” release. “Joy and pain. Healing and loss. Fluttering young hearts and weary old smiles. The peace and the fear of growing old together. They are the beautiful and sometimes harsh truths of love,” he shares. “Each song [became] a story or a reaction to a story, told by characters who have seen past the surface and live to understand life in a deeper way.” Progressing beyond his traditional folk leanings, Deni appears comfortable in experimenting with heavier synth and drum influences across this album, propelling him towards the indie-rock sounds of Coldplay and U2. Indeed, the ringing guitar tones found in “Next Line” are very reminiscent of The Edge in sound and style, while Deni’s soft-spoken vocals are intensified to match his surroundings: “Maybe I’m just here to let you go / So you can move on to a better part of the show / Just say ‘Next Line’ and life will tell you / What you want to say.”
Similar influences are detected in “One Last Fight,” a beautiful composition surrounding dealing with the death of a spouse, and accompany issues of dementia as found in the title track itself. Yet once again, it is Deni’s remarkable ability to craft great lines within his compositions that continue to resonate with me. “Juggernauts and astronauts / Lucky junkies playing slots / The time has come, and the end is near / We made it this far, there’s nothing left to fear,” he recites during “Don’t Be Afraid,” the guitars and synth still in tow for the ride. “Follow you through your tracks to the great sea and back / Til the end of the road delivers me / But I feel that you and me should equal three / You and me should equal three,” rings the chorus to “I Wish I Could Follow You,” which along with “60 Years Or More,” sees Gauthier satisfy the cravings of those seeking those more traditional sentiments. “Slowly Fading” is certainly one of the standout tracks found in this collection, opening with a great 80s movie soundtrack vibe, before adding key guitar progressions that result in an all-out screaming axe solo, with rockier vocals to match. “While the material may be heavy, the conclusion is reassuring,” offers Deni, in response to his approach to this album. “There’s nothing worth living for if it’s not for love.”