Plaid shirt rootsy rockers, The Bros Landreth, take on a swirly sheen of soul that adds lustre to their cabin fevered dreams.
Release date: 13th May 2022
Label: Birthday Cake Records
Format: CD / vinyl (pre-order) / digital
Slipping out a week ago, this unexpected pleasure opens all sorts of play on genre identification, being a well-hewn construct of Canadiana, with distinctly soulful infusions permeating the hints of country, all embedded within the blue collar rock bottom line the brothers provide. Think Springsteen meets Hall & Oates, in a logging cabin in the far north, with a bearskin on the floor and a glitter ball on the ceiling.
Joey and Dave Landreth have form. This is their third full length record, since their initial formation as a band in 2013, although, as children of a musician, playing and singing together was always and has always been a given. You know you have a winner when no less than Bonnie Raitt extols the your virtues, this being the experience of the band . She later covered Made Up Mind, from that debut, Let It Lie, on this year’s Just Like That. Slogging the circuit proved hard, and Dave stepped aside for a few years, leaving Joey to build a solo career, but in 2019 they reconvened for ’87, their joint hopes and enthusiasms for that project then becoming dashed, like for so many, on the incoming onslaught of the ‘rona. A fine piece of work, with the accompanying tour cut short, they retreated to Winnipeg, licking their wounds.
Snippets of material have emerged in the interim, largely singles and EPs, largely covers, actually where I came first to hear of them: their Bandcamp pages are well worth a browse. But they also learnt to work tighter and sharper, as just the two of them, recording in isolation, adding layer upon layer, the economies of scale and necessity stripping away any needless noodling, merely a solid core of all the notes needed, with a concentrated approach to exactly what instrumental touches were required to embed the exquisite vocals of the two siblings; each have contrasting and complementary vocal capabilities, together and separately the key to this economical album. Bar the drums, some steel and a solitary guest vocal, all the rest is their own work, guitars, bass and keys. As they say themselves, a record built for “the heart, the head and the headphones.”
Stay introduces the record as it means to go on, and is a glorious swaying meander that touches on home life versus road life, with the evocative video (below) encapsulating the opposing pulls. It is Joey, I think on vocals, it being more “his” song, drawn from the skeleton of an earlier draft, with an additional verse from Dave’s wife. That both brothers have become parents recently ads to the poignancy. The harmony vocals are pure philly and exemplary, the drums solid (and, apparently “phoned in”, courtesy Aaron Sterling, sounding much in the room as in the groove. What In The World starts with some sinuous picking, the vocals a delicate punch before some wiry steel creeps in like smoke. A love song, as in what in the world would I do without you. Organ and the rhythm section slide in unobtrusively, a song of plaintive reflection, all very Tunnel Of Love.
Not the first song ever so entitled, Drive All Night, starts with the sounds of wee hours disorientation, driving through the dark, effects adding to the confusion, before the 8 track player kicks in, the in-car player giving momentum. Forgive my nonsense, but that is the feel I get, the strands of the song imbuing that sensation, familiar to many, of a good tune being vital to maintaining the pace of a difficult journey. Not the strongest song here, but the conceit of the concept carries it, along with the heartfelt lyric. Shame has none, and is a mellow acoustic ballad, with what sounds like dobro and a Knopfleresque melody. The vocal timbres are really hitting home now, the mix of purity and passion, a little weary, with the lack of lustre thereby adding polish aplenty. A lovely twangy guitar solo bridges the middle eight, and I’m hooked, the swirly organ the icing on the cake.
You Don’t Know Me stays with the downbeat, a maudlin opening stanza of self-pity beckoning in some gradual extra texture. Pedal steel, courtesy of Joe Pisapia, tugs hard on the emotions. If the PR suggests this is an album of hope, I confess I’m uncertain at this moment, but After The Rain does now offer some shards of optimism, the sense of anticipation and excitement after a heavy rainstorm, another biting guitar solo, all too brief, adding to the looking forwardness. A coda of choral chanted vocal ends the song to drive home the theme and the message.
Don’t Feel Like Crying accelerates the renewed energy, a weepy that doesn’t, dry eyes and focus back in place. The sort of country tinged song that, say, Don Henley manages so well, the steel doing what steel does best. Leith Ross adds their vocal, the contrast between the voices a vital cog in the success of the song.
Round about now you might be questioning all the soul promised, and, fear not, here it is, back with a bullet, on Corduroy. (No, me neither.) The vocals now more John Oates, rather than the earlier full Daryl, this is more classic Philadelphia soul, from the harmony vocals of the chorus, the the clipped upchips of guitar, which breaks suddenly, as the key changes, into a swampy CCR solo, ramping away behind the voices. A highlight that awaits those who have made it, and I hope that is all, this far. The title track begins, pastorally, as a hymn. Just knowing some churchy Percy Sledge organ is going to arrive, when it never quite does, that too, strangely, adds to the pleasure. Listen hard, mind, it is there, quietly, as it is again, for the closer, Back To Thee, another ballad that nails the bridge twixt americana and sweet soul. A soft shoe, brushed drum shuffle, an end of the evening slow dance, bleary eyed and smiling to be back in the room. Which is sort of full circle from where the boys began this record.
It isn’t always an instant album, beyond the two or three tracks that sit up and beg notice, but the slow burn of the slower songs prove increasingly infectious, searing in for a good long stay and a sense of wellbeing. This mature piece of work could perhaps have only arisen from the discipline of lockdown, and is a credit to the brothers and to Murray Pulver, who, with Joey, co-produced the album.
Here’s that opening song and the video, with the snow possibly highlighting the extra demands of what on the road entails in the Canadian north: