Friday, July 18, 2014

Bend The River: “So Long Joan Fontaine” (2014) CD Review

Bend The River’s new CD, So Long Joan Fontaine, feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air, though the music is full of 1970s vibes and sounds. The band’s second album, it contains all original material, written or co-written by Ronok Sarkar. This is simply good, honest music, and it makes for one of the best albums of the year so far.

It opens with “Jenny And The Night Before,” which has the feel of that great country rock from the late 1960s, early 1970s, with a sort of delicious, laid-back approach to the vocals (that at times makes me think of Uncle Tupelo). “Jenny says it’s only make-believe/If you close your eyes in the blackness, you can see.” There is also a playful quality, especially in certain sections of the song.

“The Hunter In Me” has a fun country rhythm and folk vibe, but with the energy and attitude of a rock tune at times. This track features Daniel MacCormack on banjo, and lines like “It’s the doctor in me/It’s the doctor in me/Keeps me breathing just a little too long” and “It’s the killer in me/It’s the killer in me/That leads me back to the scene of the crime.” The line that then he returns to is “I’m not afraid to be alone.”

“Assassins” reminds me a bit of those wonderful easy grooves of those early 1970s country rock tunes, but this is no nostalgia trip, no put-on. The music feels natural, and actually that is a big part of why it makes me think of The Band and those groups. There are also shades of early Randy Newman. This song also finds some interesting peaks and valleys. For example, I love how the music becomes quiet for the line “Did you really love her all that much anyway,” choosing to focus on the vocals. The line, repeated, has a sad quality. And where the answer might come, or something else might be revealed, the music then comes on strong. It’s a really nice touch. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“This Heart Of Mine” has female lead vocals and a great, somewhat relaxed ‘70s vibe. I just love the feel of this song. It has sweet vocals, nice work on keys, and an oddly comforting groove, even as the lyrics express a weariness (perhaps even a despair) with lines like “Oh, this heart of mine/I don’t remember what it’s beating for/Oh, this heart of mine/I don’t trust it anymore.” This is another favorite of mine.

“The Hour Comes Down” also makes me think of early Randy Newman a bit, right from the beginning. The first lines are “What must we do to make this right/Because we’ve been wrong all along.” This track has some bright, powerful moments, particularly on keys, plus some sweet backing vocals. This one was co-written by Ronok Sarkar and Matt Myer.

“No One Else To Blame” is one I want to have with me on my next road trip. It has a good, simple driving beat, and that sort of wisdom that hits you just right when you’ve been driving for several hours. He sings, “There’s really no one else here left to blame,” and the female vocals repeat the line, hitting it home.

Bend The River follows that with “Half Of My Love,” a nice, mellow, sweet folk tune. “Half of my love/Half of my heart/Is still with you.” And I like this line: “Border towns where you never know when you cross the line.” This track is yet another highlight of the album. There is a delicious, somewhat sad beauty to this song. And it’s hard for me to figure out if the longing is just within the song, or within me.

You can hear a bit of a George Harrison influence on “The Air.”  You can wait around for heaven’s glory/What do you do when it don’t come?

“Dear Old Jackson” is kind of beautiful, with some excellent blending of vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I spent a long, long time waiting/In the shadows of my soul/And I never thought it could happen/But it's all happening now/Yeah, it's all happening now.” And I particularly love the guitar part during the instrumental section.

CD Track List

  1. Jenny And The Night Before
  2. The Hunter In Me
  3. Assassins
  4. This Heart Of Mine
  5. The Hour Comes Down
  6. No One Else To Blame
  7. Half Of My Love
  8. The Air
  9. We Still Don’t Know
  10. Dear Old Jackson
  11. The Echo And The Sway

Bend The River is Ronok Sarkar on vocals, guitar, and piano; Adam Fine on bass; Matt Myer on keyboards; Mark Bachinski on drums and percussion; Phil Sedore on electric guitar and lap steel; Norma MacDonald on vocals; and Becky Siamon on vocals. Joining them on this release are Clive MacNutt on electric guitar; R.J. Donovan on vocals, drums and acoustic guitar; Daniel MacCormack on banjo; Benn Ross on percussion, and Caiden Sarkar on handclaps.

Bend The River is based in Halifax.

So Long Joan Fontaine is scheduled to be released on July 22, 2014. By the way, in case you can't place the name, Joan Fontaine starred in a couple of Alfred Hitchcock films (Rebecca and Suspicion), as well as many other movies (including The Bigamist and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt) and television programs. She died in December of 2013.

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