Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016]

As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s blended voices still send shivers up my spine and “Still” is still one of my favorite songs of all time but unfortunately I did not consider either of these new releases to be worthy of a review. Both of the albums sound like these bands sound—and don’t get me wrong, I like the sound—but in my opinion neither of the albums breaks any new ground lyrically or musically. What is there to say that has not been said?

So instead, I review a band that was new to me with their 2016 release: Hope. The Strumbellas are a six piece folk ensemble with all six members providing some sweet vocal harmonies and a rich folk/pop sound. Although not musically adventurous, the writing and production provide some catchy tunes and clever musical hooks. The ironic mix is that while the vocals and instrumentation are pleasant, upbeat, and refreshing, the lyrics are sometimes brooding, dark, and reflective—yet not without hope as the title suggests. The theme of hope is an appropriate one to reflect on during this season of Lent as we long for the new life of Easter. My favorite songs are: “Spirits” [the opening song to the album and the radio single], “Wars”, “Young and Wild”, and “We Don’t Know”. The one song that makes me shake my head is “Dog” where they sing: “When this road gets too rough I’ll be your dog”. Perhaps it is because I am not a dog lover that the analogy just does not work for me as the most effective to describe loyal friendship.

The lyrics on the entire album are loaded with what I would call young adult angst: “we’re a long way from home…I’ll be a dreamer till the day I die…I don’t want a never ending life; I just want to be alive while I’m here…we don’t know the roads we are heading down; we don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way…from this moment forever I can hope…I must go and chase this dream of mine…this shaky heart is young… I don’t know what I am but I’m doing the best I can…I’m young and wild…” The song writer’s head is full of a lot of stuff: dreams, guns, spirits, ghosts, pain, darkness, soldiers—and hope. Yet, upon deeper reflection perhaps young adults only mirror and artistically articulate what is human longing; and, if that is the case they speak the angst and hope that is in all of us.

If this band were in town I would definitely go hear them and take one of my young adult kids. The music is enjoyable and the lyrics are thoughtful and reflective. With six members I can imagine they would put on an energetic and lively show.

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