Second solo outing for Winnipeg’s “Laidback Springsteen”, Ariel Posen.
Release Date: 5th March 2021
Label: Soundly Music
Formats: CD, 2xLP vinyl
Acclaimed by Rolling Stone as “A laidback Springsteen” and heralded, by that same august journal, as “A modern-day guitar hero,” Winnipeg’s Ariel Posen has built quite a reputation for himself. Formerly a member of Canadian alt-country outfit, The Bros. Landreth, Ariel is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer and above all, a guitarist of exceptional ability and feeling. Headway is his second solo album.
It’s an album that’s had quite a lengthy period of gestation. Following the release of his debut album, How Long, in January 2019, Ariel spent much of that year on a tour that took in dates in the UK, Sweden, Ireland and the USA, as well as all over his native Canada. The songs for Headway either existed before or were written, developed and road-tested during that tour. In December 2019, Ariel started the process of recording them. Building on the rootsy feel and content of How Long, Ariel has expanded his sound to take in a range of genres including R&B, Beatles-leaning pop and particularly the blue-eyed soul of artists like Hall & Oates, without compromising his greatest asset – his outstanding talent on the electric guitar.
The songs on Headway are a slightly unusual but nevertheless enjoyable mix of white soul and bombastic rock. The rock element is supplied here by his signature guitar sound – moderate distortion and lots of slide work – whilst the soulful content comes via Ariel’s clear, expressive and versatile voice. He’s joined by a core of Julian Bradford on bass, JJ Johnson on drums and Alex Campbell on Wurlitzer. It has an endearing home-made feel and the production focusses on the voice/guitar combination; bass is subtle yet effective and the percussion effects are fairly subdued.
Opening track Heart By Heart sets the scene for what is to come. The song’s intro suggests a blues theme, but as soon as the vocals come in, the flavour is very definitely soul-y. The sparse instrumentation places the focus and responsibility on Ariel’s guitar, and it’s an approach that works pretty well! The soulful vibe is continued with Coming Back before things get a little more mellow and poppy in Carry Me Home, the first of the album’s real standout tracks.
Nobody Else is another highlight – a slow ballad with some excellent slide guitar work and a gritty undercurrent – whilst we get to experience the “Laidback Springsteen” with the strutting power ballad, Did You See It Coming. What Are We Doing takes us back to soul-y Hall & Oats territory; it’s a song with a solid bass/percussive backing, another excellent slide guitar solo and a tune that grows on you as it goes on.
Big Picture builds slowly from a choppy guitar/bass intro into a powerful chorus that features what is probably the album’s strongest vocal whilst It’s You transforms from a restrained, folky piece into a bouncy pop song. We even get to hear a bit of reggae in the equally bouncy I’ll Be Finding You before we reach the intriguing I’m Gone: the album’s longest song and something of a slow-burning epic. Built around a creeping guitar riff, the song builds slowly and culminates in the best guitar solo on the album – a solo that almost breaks free of the controlled mastery that is otherwise such a feature of Ariel’s style.
The penultimate track Sometimes You Lie is another highlight. A lazy, slow ballad built upon a backing of rock-solid bass and controlled, distorted guitar, it’s one of the more restrained numbers and manages to achieve a mid-sixties Tamla feel. Closing track, Now I See, is the current single, a co-composition between Ariel and his friend Alexa Dirks, otherwise known as the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter, Begonia. It’s a well-structured pop song with a lovely slide guitar intro and bridge, it includes yet another blistering guitar solo and turns into something quite anthemic. A great way to end a highly enjoyable album.
Watch the Official Video for Now I See – the current single from the album – here: