CD Review: Years of Ernest “A Crooked Storyline”

Posted: June 27, 2011 by Windsor Zene in CD Releases, CDs, Previews, Reviews

Years of Ernest, A Crooked Storyline

Years of Ernest have slowly become Windsor’s most dependable band. They may not write the catchiest tunes or have the loudest amps, but they can always be counted on to put on a world class rock and roll show full of great riffs, sweet harmonies and the feeling that even song was meant. It’s no surprise that their long awaited debut album, A Crooked Storyline, is equally dependable.

On this album (which in today’s world of EPs and 10-song albums is remarkably long, stuffed with thirteen tracks), Years of Ernest delivers a refreshingly nostalgic brand of rock and roll that can best be described as a quilted veil of pure Canadiana. It feels like an ode to Canadian bands like The Rheostatics, Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip or Save This House and older era Spirit of the West. If you were take the best elements of each of those bands – the great harmonies, the sonic layering, the murky underbelly and the engaging storytelling – you would end up with this band. Which is perhaps a product of the musical intimacy Years of Ernest has over most other bands. Three of the four man band – guitarist Leigh Wallace, bassist Paul Loncke and drummer Joey “Wiseguy” DesRoches – have been playing for years together as part of The Locusts Have No King, one of Windsor’s best known and beloved bands. And singer/guitarist Andrew MacLeod feels comfortable in the mix of these brilliant tempered musicians.

Which is part of the beauty of the aural landscapes created within A Crooked Storyline – you can actually feel the band’s chemistry in each song. There isn’t a stutter or a note slip, no blemish or after thought, no filler or wasted movements. These songs are carefully constructed stories that pull you in with their simple rhythms, catch you in its musical net and guides you over the waves to the stories MacLeod sings you with all the passion of a Maritime troubadour (which incidentally he kind of is).

The opening song “Madman” starts the disc off with a quirky swagger and introduces you to the world of MacLeod’s stories. “Who here can believe/In a singer singing every song in the same key/Our day is coming soon/A ten step standoff at the hour of noon/I may live in my cocoon/But I know you never gave me your respect to lose”.

The second song, “My Mouth”, has all the makings of a giant hit. Like in the same way that Spirit of the West’s “Home For A Rest” or Tragically Hip’s “New Orlean’s is Sinking”. It’s an undeniable beat and sing-a-long bridges and it’s not impossible to imagine a large festival crowd singing along in unison to “If it gets any hotter we’ll burn this place down!”, pumping their fists in the air to the driving stomp of Leigh Wallace on the guitar.

Speaking of Wallace, he handles the vocals on the third track “See Right Through You”, a great roots rocker. Wallace has been a major player in Windsor’s music scene for over a decade, playing in some of the city’s most respected and beloved outfits, from the lush indie pop of The Butterfield Gateway and Caught in the Moss (both of which he partnered with Cloverjoy‘s Adam Gilchrist) to his guitar work in The Locusts Have No King, Wallace’s unique and fluid fret work has inspired many of the scene’s finest songwriters and in this track, Wallace shows he’s been inspired by his peers. This definitely feels like the product of working alongside David Dubois and despite feeling like maybe it could have been a Locusts Have No King song, it just feels cleaner in this songbook. Years of Ernest make this feel more Blue Rodeo than the Drive-By Truckers.

“Ought To” is another stand-out, a plodding driving tale of remorse from MacLeod – seemingly at missing someone (a lover or family member) but more-so himself for not making more of an effort to keep in touch. Or maybe even care. The backing vocals of Wallace and DesRoches shine through like little rays of sunshine in an absolute gem of a recording.

Wallace handles the microphone again on the Rolling Stones-y rollick “Season Plays Treason”, which features some great driving by Joey DesRoches. Despite being one of the more recognizable faces in the local music scene, DesRoches (aka “The Wiseguy”) is perhaps one of the more criminally under-rated musical minds in town. He’s a master arranger and co-ordinator in the studio (as evidenced when he held court over one of the gang vocal sessions for Surdaster‘s upcoming album) and he plays his percussion with feel over ego. He knows when to go balls out but also has the instinct to know when less is more. A wise man once said to me that sometimes it’s what you don’t play that makes the most difference, and it’s in this regard that the Wiseguy shows he is indeed a wise man. Every hit, every crash, is intended and necessary, simple as that. There are no excessive displays of cymbal smashing or excessive fills or rolls. He gives the song’s exactly what the song requires – what it needs – and that is it. And he does it with a deft grace that is so flawless you almost don’t notice its precision.

Bassist Paul Loncke is a similar beast to DesRoches. The dexterity of his bass lines are so smooth and subtle that you don’t realize the layers he’s sewn under the covers of the guitars. But on the murky funk-folk of “Dark Lords” he gets more of a chance to shine. Loncke has long served as a great backline to some great musicians in the city, starting with a successful run in 90’s rock outfit The Scarecrows (that also featured George Bozanich and George Manury to name a few), a band that used to pack The Loop with regularity and ease. His work alongside former Dresden Sky singer/songwriter Erin Gignac and his other gig in The Locusts Have No King have pushed him to find the limits from total constraint to gunning like a motorcycle and his feel is perfect for this project as well.

The album closes out with the rocker “Cover Up” (keeping with the Canadiana feel, this album almost steps into Danko Jones territory), another great story by MacLeod. It’s an ominously mysterious song that could be interpreted in several different ways – at first I thought maybe it was about two kids trying to cover up something they’d done, but after repeated listens, it now feels like a song about one brother singing to another while they’re being abducted (and I’m probably still wrong). “They were lions and lambs/Hunger in a dead land/Holding off the bloodshed/Brakes are nearly gone/He was dressed as a friend/Headed toward the same end…”

All in the all, this album feels like a classic album. It’s a start to finish storybook (as much as it is a songbook), about some interesting characters, by some interesting characters. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen through from start to finish without worrying about keeping your finger on the advance button. Each song has its own feel and identity and enough intrigue to listen to what it’s saying.

And now, we have Years of Ernest’s CD release weekend. That’s right. Weekend. They’re throwing two CD releases parties at two ends of the city. The first is a free admission show on Friday July 1st at The Dominion House Tavern (3140 Sandwich St.) in the West End (with special guests Meters To Miles), followed by a downtown show on Saturday July 2nd at Villains Beastro (256 Pelissier St.) with a minimal $5 cover (or for $10 get admission plus a CD!), with special guests George Bozanich and Paul Farah.

You’ve waited a year in earnest. Now go get what you deserve.

  1. Ashley says:

    Jamie this is a fantastic article. You captured this band and cd perfectly and you had me interested in what you were going to write next just as you were mentioning feeling the same of the cd. Well done!

  2. Great Review…! Looking forward to the shows this weekend!

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