This release by Pistol George Warren is, metaphorically speaking, a train. Sometimes it moves steadily and slowly, carrying you along with it at a comforting, even pace. Sometimes it gently rocks you back and forth with lilting grace. Sometimes it surges ahead, powerfully and invigoratingly, catching you up in the rush. But for all its force and energy, the one thing the train never does is leave the tracks. And that is both the blessing and the curse this album holds.
Here’s a game you can play with your musical friends. Tell them you have come across a lost Bob Dylan album from the late seventies or early eighties. Say that this was never released because Bob had just had some minor vocal surgery done and therefore didn’t sound quite like himself, and that’s why the album was never put out. Then throw on Mindemoya and let them listen. I’m willing to bet a few people will believe – however tenuously – that this could be that fictional lost album. Such are the similarities between this Pistol George Warren offering and something Mr. Zimmerman could have released…but didn’t.
The opening track on Mindemoya sets the stage with a little blue collar music. “Front Porch” offers up some gritty vocals, delicious pedal steel guitar work and wonderfully clunky percussion. It’s all tied together with some groovy background vocals in a semi-anthemic musical package that will put a smile on your face. This train is up to a pretty good speed before you even realise it.
Tune two is called “Rocky Mountain Blues Pt. 1,” and puts me in mind of an only slightly more upbeat version of The Band’s “Tears of Rage,” which was written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel from The Band. It’s a gloriously unpolished piece, once again featuring some gorgeous pedal steel guitar. The vocals have a real whiff of soul about them and are perfectly complemented by the background singers.
“No Stranger” is a bluesy testament grinded out around the background vocal refrain “Low you’re so lonesome, you’re no stranger to the Lovesick Blues.” While the instrumentation is solid, it’s really the oft-repeated vocals that carry this number along. And while it’s certainly a worthy inclusion on this album, it doesn’t venture far from the beaten path…kinda like a train on the tracks, to recall my earlier analogy. That’s both a strength and a weakness, in my opinion. A strength in that it really drives home the message, a weakness in that the theme never really gets expanded upon or fully explored.
The whole Dylanesque thing really gains credibility with the song “Be Your Dog.” You could really picture Bob singing this, although only stylistically, not lyrically speaking. The background vocals again really shine on this one, and the instrumentation is tight and polished. It’s an upbeat number that makes it one of the tastiest tunes on the album.
“Kingston Gully” is one of the best tracks on the album in my opinion. The guitar work is tantalizing, and lays a nice foundation for the crisp vocal output. It’s hard not to once again invoke Mr. Dylan’s name here. Even lyrically speaking, this could fall easily into the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack without the requisite killin’. It’s a good story song, and one that holds up well to multiple listening. The straight forward delivery serves this number well.
“Old Like a Stone” veers between country and travelling roadside Gospel to great effect. It’s a bit of a toe tapper and has a nice tempo change later on for variety. This is one example where I think the song could have gone on longer. I found myself wanting to hear more, but then it was done. The lyrics stand out here, and I love the fact that they include references to Manitoulin Island (Ontario) where this collection was recorded. I should mention that the album takes its name – Mindemoya – from a location on the island.
The next song, “Rocky Mountain Blues Pt. 2,” is a hard-driving number, powered in part by pounding drums and coloured in nicely with, at times, screeching vocals. The guitar work helps add some impetus, although it feels like it is, at its heart, a showcase for the drummer. And that’s great. Being a big fan of all things Canadian, I am glad that “sweet Kelowna” gets name-checked.
The vocals take center stage on “A Voice in the Night.” While this is on the surface a simple tune, it is nonetheless powerful. The instrumentation is solid and performs its supporting role very well, not charging past the vocals but instead adding just the right amount of tension. Again I felt the song was a little on the short side at just over three minutes, as I would have gladly listened to a few more verses.
The final track on Mindemoya is called “Just Want to See His Face.” It rumbles along nicely from the start thanks to the bass and drum work. This song has unmistakeable religious overtones, although at no time attempts to beat you over the head with them. For that, I am thankful. There is sometimes a thin line between spiritual and preachy and this is definitely of the former persuasion, not the latter. Do yourself a favour and turn up the volume as soon as the song is over. You might get a kick out of the background chatter, if just for the sake of the description of the knock on the door. It gave me a smile, anyway.
Mindemoya is a well-produced, well-executed, worthy effort by the Pistol George Warren band. This seems to be a group with strong musical roots and the desire to stay true to those roots. It’s interesting in this day and age of austerity to see a band that has nine members, and I hope they are getting enough through their gigs and music to keep the line up fed and clothed over the long haul. Music is a tough business in which to survive, let alone thrive.
I mentioned musical roots before, and you’ll certainly get a sense of that in the album art. The “nods” to the past include a rather overt homage to the Paul McCartney & Wings album Band on the Run, a less obvious (and perhaps not even intentional) allusion to Martha and the Muffins Metro Music album cover, and for a certain camp value you have a Brady-Bunch-on-steroids photo collage. This tells me the band has a much needed sense of fun.
You can find out more and have a listen for yourself by checking out their Bandcamp page.
Top Tracks: “Kingston Gully;” “Human Unconditioned;” “Be Your Dog”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*