Review – “The Park Avenue Sobriety Test” – Joel Plaskett

past_coverreviewed by Michael Thomas

What is the Park Avenue Sobriety Test? It’s actually two things—a metal guardrail that several drunk drivers have crashed into in Darmouth, Nova Scotia; it also is an acronym for “the past.” Both of these definitions are key to understanding the latest work from one of Canada’s most treasured artists, Joel Plaskett.

The former definition is a good example of why Plaskett is so beloved; he’s local. Given his success and varied fan base, he could easily move to big music centres like Toronto or Montreal, but he’s stayed put in Nova Scotia. The aforementioned guardrail got its name from Plaskett’s former neighbour in Dartmouth.

On this new album, Plaskett continues to put to music his love for his home. The opening bars of “On a Dime” feature that wonderful fiddle one immediately associates with the Maritimes, “Alright OK” features the line “Halifax, Nova Scotia is the land of the free, I don’t care what the anthem says.” And the title track, as the blog has noted previously, goes over seemingly mundane local events in a refreshingly sharp fashion.

The other definition of the Test, that it spells out “The Past,” can be seen as a reflection as Plaskett turns 40 this year. Age is a funny thing—though Plaskett is approaching middle age, he’s been a fixture of the Canadian music scene for two decades. So while he can miss the times when “we could take any turn on a dime,” he can rest easy knowing that when he reaches a truly old age, he’ll already be a legend.

There’s another edge to this album, as Plaskett focuses on the down-on-their-luck and the people who put them there. “Captains of Industry,” for all its softness and pedal steel instrumentation, has a pretty biting chorus: “The captains of industry are driving us home, selling us lies, tapping our phones/Shaking us down, and we don’t even know it.” The succinctly-titled, country-flavoured “Broke” focuses on the important distinction between “broke” and “broken” as he goes over the story of a few figures in less-than-amazing, but not hopeless, situations.

For some sly Plaskett-brand wordsmithery, look at a song like “Song For Jersey,” a short bluesy number where he seemingly rattles off anything that comes to mind: “Hope they change your gun laws, god I miss John Candy/ If I have a little girl I will name her Sandy” i just a brief sample. And “Alright OK” manages to throw in references to Joni Mitchell and Jameson’s Whiskey in a song about a girl never coming back again.

At the rate Plaskett is going, he should have another dozen or two records by the time he retires, and as The Park Avenue Sobriety Test proves, he’s as sharp as ever.

Top Tracks: “Alright OK”; “Captains of Industry”; “The Park Avenue Sobriety Test”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*

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