Monday, March 31, 2014

Penny Blacks: “Gold Standards” (2011) CD Review

Gold Standards, the first EP from Penny Blacks, is quite a bit different from their most recent release, The Silver Screen EP. This one is more in the acoustic vein, and does not feature a full band. As with The Silver Screen EP, all tracks were written by Jason Ogden. But this release is closer to a Jason Ogden solo album.

The EP’s opening track, “Chop Yourself Into Little Pieces And Mail Yourself To New Brunswick, Canada For Immediate Reassembly,” has a nice, simple rhythm on acoustic guitar. And of course it also has the CD’s best song title. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Just you in a wet coat/Just eyeliner runs and no ones/But I never forgot your love/It’s alternately been an angel or devil sitting on my shoulder/Whispering ‘come back’ in my ear.” It’s an interesting mix of folk music sounds with a more rock approach to the vocals.

That’s followed by a wonderful country tune, “Your Wedding Ring,” which opens with the lines, “Where’s your wedding ring, darling/You used to wear it with such pride.” So I’m thinking that it’s the woman’s husband who is singing, that it’s one of those country tunes of lost love. Because Jason Ogden has just the right tone of nostalgia and wistfulness in his voice. But instead it’s the woman’s friend who is singing, a friend who loves her. “I won’t tell a soul, dear, there’s no need to be ashamed/That man took your smile, your ring, and your sunshine, and he is the one to blame.” There is a short, but absolutely delightful instrumental section. Dillon Anthony plays pedal steel on this track.

“Paperwork” is a lively pop tune done on acoustic guitar, with some punk vibes to keep things interesting, which fits with great lines like, “Rust is in the air” and “Your saliva was the colour of raspberry candies when you spit on me.” This is a very cool tune. Adam Mowery provides vocals on this track.

“Splinter Kiss” has an odd beginning, an electronic pulse slowing. The song then comes on as a slow acoustic tune. The first line begins, “My heart ain’t been right,” and there’s a pause, giving my brain time to guess the rest, something like, “Since you left.” So I’m happily surprised when he finishes the line with “since the day that we met.” Right then I know this is going to be an interesting song. This is a love song about a man who must have been used to pain and misery. That had become his norm, and so now it feels like something is wrong, because the norm has changed. “It don’t get all tight in my chest and it don’t get upset.” The mellow feel of the song is interesting, because you might expect him to sound happy rather than concerned. But change can be frightening, even if it’s good change, positive change. His voice does get brighter, with more energy, toward the end when he sings, “If a beat, it gets skipped, it’s from your tender lips/If it races minutes-to-miles, it’s because of your smile.”

The EP’s final track, “Socorro,” is, in part, about being a musician and traveling. “Fingers do their own thing/I just open my mouth and sing.” For me it gets more interesting when he sings, “You’re losing pieces of yourself every day/How long before that starts to show?” He then uses a description of a bird to illustrate the situation, or how he sees it, especially in relation to his possible future. “He’s a timid sort of creature, and I hear he’s not long for this world/He’s capable of flight, but as the years go by, his wings rarely unfurl.”

CD Track List

  1. Chop Yourself Into Little Pieces And Mail Yourself To New Brunswick, Canada For Immediate Reassembly
  2. Your Wedding Ring
  3. Paperwork
  4. Splinter Kiss
  5. Socorro 

Gold Standards was released on April 26, 2011.

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