So, I reviewed Scoop Trumbull and the Wrong Notes’ preview of their debut album, Pull the Cork, and I was unabashedly in love with it. That was a little while ago, and now what should just happen to fall into my lap, but a full advance copy of the album. After dancing around like a spastic idiot (no, you do not get a Vine of that), I sat down and took several long listens to it.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a folk classic. Whether you like brash, beautifully bombastic, battlin‘ banjos, or have a taste for other alliterated instrumental virtuosity, you’re most definitely going to enjoy listening to this record.
‘Charles Lindburgh’ launches the album, hitting us full force with the band’s signature, traditional folk sound. The track’s pace – along to the strum of a guitar and banjo duo at a somewhat march-like pace – makes the listener feel as though they’re striding (quite literally) into an exploration of the album’s frontier. The high, banjo melodic noodlings give the song a hook to attach the listener’s attention to. Ty Trumbull’s vocals on this track remind me somewhat of the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, however with more rawness and less melodrama (a good thing, in case you’re wondering). Also, is that a sneaky washboard I hear in the background?
‘Tombstones, Glass Tombstones’ comes up next, and it goes for an out-and-out jig that will make it nigh impossible for you to keep from tapping your foot to the rhythm. A duo of guitar and banjo keep this fast-paced dance reel flowing, with intricate fingerwork, worthy of any traditional jig. Around the three-minute-and-twelve-seconds mark, the track takes a turn for the more contemplative, and the lyrics of “Don’t let me fall into this world that I hate / Just pray it’s not too late” further strengthen the undercurrent of melancholy that runs just beneath the track’s surface. All in all, this track has it all: a rousing barroom refrain, a driving jig reel, and enough though-provoking, living-to-die type subtext to make it worth several listens.
‘My Girl Doesn’t Like Me When I’m Sober’ is a straight-up bar song, and I abso-friggin-lutely love it. Combining melodious, surprisingly heartfelt vocals, with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour, it might just be my favourite. The song gets its title from the lyric “My girl doesn’t like me when I’m sober / Calls me dumb, stupid, boring, and obtuse”, which gives you a sense of the tragicomic feel of the whole sorry story of a man who gives up the bottle for a month, only to find that his sober persona drives his lady off faster than you can order a fifth of bourbon. The whole song and chorus give off a powerful sense that they were recorded in a bar while most (if not all) of the individuals involved were half soused. This works to incredible effect, and you can practically see this song being sung at a neighbourhood pub (right down to what sounds suspiciously like a burp in the background at the very end).
‘Big Hearts and Bold Ideas’ takes us out (slightly) of the pure indie folk domain, opting to launch things off with a somewhat melancholy (and at the same time optimistic) piano intro, which provides the hook for the whole song. It gradually builds up – with the addition of the ever-present daring duo of guitar/banjo, and a muted beat, and around the fifty-second mark the vocals come in. The chorused lyrics paint a picture of regret, tempered with a sense of reconciliation: “They were big hearts and bold ideas / just none of them were meant for me / It’s alright, I see that now / You can’t take the salt from the sea”. There’s a strong feeling of wisdom gained through experience on this track, as though the main protagonist has finally reached a point of understanding, roughly midway between the regret of lost bold ideas, and the understanding that not all of those ideas were meant to be. In a way, one could compare this song to some on Mumford & Sons‘ albums, however Ty and the Wrong Notes manage to give this story a much more down-to-earth personal touch. I think these guys might have just beaten Mumford at their own game on this track.
‘Oh Susanna’. Well, I sure as shootin’ didn’t expect this, that’s for sure (not that it isn’t a pleasant and interesting surprise). The Scoops (I can call them that, right? I’m a writer, I can make up nicknames, right?) give us a take on this steamship classic that’s at the same time traditional and also freshly original. Banjo and voice are to be understood for a band that’s so firmly rooted in folk tradition, however the song takes an interesting turn around the one minute and seven seconds mark, when the whole thing shifts into the song’s minor key version. The song becomes a lot darker, and you get the sense that the song’s protagonist doesn’t have much hope of reuniting with his lost love anytime soon. Things take yet another turn for the dramatic at the two-minute-and-twenty-three mark, when the banjo falls quiet, allowing for a pretty stark vocal solo. “When I get to New Orleans, I will look around / And when I find Susanna, I’ll lift her off the ground / But if I do not find her, I will surely die / And when I’m buried in the ground, Susanna don’t you cry”. So, yeah. In the words of some guy I saw in a movie once: They ain’t gettin’ back together (or was that Taylor Swift?).
‘Pillars’. Let me just preface this by saying that I’m disgustingly in love with this song, and the two that follow it. A summary, airy banjo intro starts things off on this track, but it soon picks up with an unbelievably catchy, guitar-driven beat (and I think I also espy that washboard in the background again). If you can keep still while listening to this track, there’s a very good chance that your headphones/speakers aren’t working. Lyrics like “They’re tearing up the woods, behind my parents’ house / I wonder what they’ll find buried there” give the song a distinct feeling of things falling apart – and rather quickly at that. This whirlwind track is so amazingly well put together, and so homogenous that two minutes and fifty four seconds will basically whizz by without you even noticing it. The chorus is the big thing that’s going to sell you on this track (as if the rest of the song wasn’t already perfect), but I’m not going to spoil it for you. This, you need to hear for yourself (go on . . . I’ll wait).
‘Come Along Little Children (Raise a Ruckus)’ is an out-and-out party song. Lending wholehearted and gleeful credence to the stereotype that we can’t pronounce our Us (say it with me roo-ckus, don’t you just love how it tastes like maple syrup as it rolls off you tongue?). Every little part of the Wrong Notes is on full display on this track. Banjo, guitar and wild choruses make this jig the most infectious thing since the Spanish flu. I really can’t describe the sheer joy and abandon on this track. All I’m going to say is that come May (the album’s release date), you’ll be playing this track at all your parties.
‘Joe Laflamme’. For those of you who
are unpatriotic Ontarians haven’t heard of the legend/true story, let’s just say that this guy basically redefined the term “crazy, manly, bearded Canadian guy”. Now, go and Google him.
So, what about the song? Well, it’s an honest-to-goodness, true Canadian ballad. The traditional banjo/guitar accompaniment serve as the canvas on which Ty lays out the tale of Laflamme (with suitable epicosity). At times tender and at times bold and daring, the vocals perfectly encapsulate Laflamme’s life, and recreate the feel of traveling through the vast stretches of Canadian wilderness, through which you can practically see Laflamme mushing his wolf pack.
‘The River’ starts off as a pure voice and banjo affair, like so many other folk songs. It starts growing in size, adding in the main chorus, until around the forty-seconds mark, when it blossoms into a full fledged, no-nonsense track. A brooding, moody bass accompaniment serves as a backing counterpoint to the banjo ostinato. Around them, a trio comprised of acoustic guitar, fiddle and harmonica drive the song forward at a steady clip. Around the one-minute-and-seventeen-seconds mark the song really hits its stride, growing into a somewhat menacing, decisive ballad. Lyrics like “You’ve gotta live with what you’ve done” and “Saw a young boy standing there / Holding all my sins” outline the song’s cautionary tale. It’s very much an old-timey, somewhat accusatory, your-actions-have-repercussions, regret-filled sort of ballad, in the vein of traditional folk songs like ‘Darling Corey’ and ‘Katie Cruel’. I’m actually surprised (and extremely impressed) that this isn’t a traditional folk tune (or at least a modern version of one). It’s so convincingly written, both lyrically and musically, that you could easily picture it being sung out on the trails.
Nothing to see here. Perfect Torontonian album. Move along.
The Verdict: 10 – Masterpiece
– Great album with a heartfelt and very authentic folk sound.
– Good variation among the songs. Never overplays its aesthetic
– The songs are memorable and you’ll find at least three that’ll most likely turn up on your party playlist
– Great sound mixing. Instruments and vocals are perfectly balanced and complement each other beautifully.
Note: I’ve already talked about parts of this album in my review of it’s preview (here), so you might recognize my comments about some of the songs.