Named for a street in his hometown, Braden Phelan’s second release took inspiration from the local church next door to his parents’ house in rural Ontario. 379 Evert St. is full of big songs for big places, and it’s easy to picture Phelan filling up the empty chamber of a church nave with his potent blend of rock, blues and a dash of indie.
With some training at Seneca College behind him and a slew of contributors chipping in everything from vocals to the mandolin on his eight-song EP, Phelan’s managed to set off on the right foot as he—to paraphrase himself—sets off into the wider world as all small town folks seem to do. The album careens through Canadiana in all its glorious shapes and sizes, laying it on heavy for a muddy electric guitar on “Take Me” and plying a more gentle touch with the newfound romance of “The Gamblers.”
Both work to Phelan’s advantage—going loud lets him live up to his self-proclaimed status of being “the result of a saucy night of passion between Tom Waits and The Band (Neil Young watched)” and relishing all that comes with it. But slowing things down does a better job of showcasing Phelan’s penchant for rhythms and breaks, giving his choral build far more passion and letting you savour his hesitant lyrics (“When Death gambles, he plays for keeps”).
“Better” kicks things off with a bouncy, optimistic blazer of a song, juxtaposing the methodical downward strum with the perky sounds of an old video game to make for a fine point of entry. Dropping its polar opposite, as Phelan and Liv Cazzola sing, “I’m alone when I’m with you,” manages to signal the fact that this isn’t your typical pop rock burst while tapping into some of the darkness Phelan mentions, as well as the languor of small choices.
Although despite the number of vulnerable ballads that line 379 Evert St., Phelan is perhaps truest to his opener. His album is ultimately full of possibility for all the depths he plumbs along the way and the quiet support he musters in the closing track reflects his own willingness to pack up, leave small-town life and pitch in to the broader world, which would be lucky to have him—and not just because he’s offering to bring “Ice Cream & Wine.”
Top Tracks: “The Gamblers”; “Ice Cream & Wine”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)