Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reviews:: Jonny Stevens S/T

If you've ever been on the hill before, it won't come as a surprise to you that I think Halifax has a pretty vibrant music scene. It's pretty varied too, as we've got plenty of groups kicking out the indie rock jams, lots of hip hop dudes making moves, and singer-songwriters both male and female putting their sensitive spin on that steez. But what we're lacking is music you might classify as maritime folk/rock with a raw punk edge. Well that is what I thought until I was put onto Jonny Stevens and his self-titled debut. Truthfully, the "maritime folk/rock with a raw punk edge" description comes from Jonny's bio and I wouldn't have even been able to guess what that would sound like until hearing his album. In short, it sounds good.

A native of Lunenberg, Jonny was a member of Halifax punk stalwarts The New Breed from 1997 until the group disbanded in 2005. The band had plenty of success releasing 4 albums and touring Eastern Canada and beyond. But according to his bio, after writing a bunch of songs that "a punk band would never record", Jonny decided to record those songs and embark on a solo career. Citing influences like Billy Bragg, Joe Strummer, and Steve Earle, Jonny comes across as kind of a punk troubadour with an album full of honest, edgy songs that you could still sing along to in a pub. Not sure if that does Jonny or this album justice, but it kind of makes sense to me.

The uptempo, almost Ska-ish I know How It Goes serves as a rollicking opener to the album, which is appropriate as "rollicking" is a word that came to mind repeatedly when I listened to the album. The catchy no-sellout anthem You Can't Take Me is a song just begging for an "Ayy!" to kick things off, and thankfully Jonny obliges. This is perhaps my favorite song on the album, a perfect combination of free-wheeling guitars, drums, and keys mixed with Jonny's socially conscious yet non-preachy lyrics. Excellent stuff. If Ack and I were to select a theme song for our fictional, post-university scheme to jet off to some remote country and sell melons on the beach, we could do worse than the country-tinged, rat-race rejecting Two Weeks Notice.

The aforementioned Two Weeks Notice reminds me of Matt Mays, as do a couple of the slower jams on the album, so it's appropriate that Matt himself makes a guest appearance on Fire From The Sky. Wicked Dreams makes great use of the organ, as many of the tracks on the album do, as Jonny sings about regret and the need to search out a new beginning. I think When You Wake is the perfect song a guy who spent 8 years fronting a punk band would write for his wife. It's very personal and heartfelt without getting weepy. It's quite nice actually.

Starting Over gets things cranked up again and also brings "rollicking" back to mind with a zippy bassline and some more funky organ. Shelters is easily one of the catchiest anti-poverty songs I've heard in some time, and another example of Jonny's ability to put a message in a song without sounding forced. Ruth Minnikin provides some accordion accompaniment, as well as some vocal assistance on the poignant Coming Down.

So do I recommend Jonny Stevens? I certainly do, and I thank Ack for alerting him to my attention from all the way out in Vancity. All Halifax bias aside, this is a very enjoyable album from start to finish. Jonny kind of reminds me of a Maritime Ted Leo with the celtic/punk roots and the focus on social issues in his song writing. Except of course being the Maritime version Jonny is a little mellower than ole Ted, but they also share a blue collar sensibility that comes through in their songwriting. Anyway, enough of my nutty comparisons and waffle, this is a solid album, check it for yourself.

mp3:: Jonny Stevens - You Can't Take Me

mp3:: Jonny Stevens - Starting Over

myspace :: web :: buy it

video:: Starting Over

Posted at 3:40 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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