Sat, May 4, 2013.
Saint John's Penny Blacks continue their run of EP's here, the group's third release, all of them mini-albums. This time, we get a look at the group at its most pop-influenced, as the four songs are all reigned in to short, snappy 45 rpm-style cuts. Hooks, harmonies, verse-chorus-verse structure is used on each, the catchier the better. A big band, with six pieces plus whatever guests they bring along, in the past the musicians and melodies have gone lots of places, but this time, the arrangements are tight, the parts succinct.
And I like it. I think it's a good fit for the group, since Jason Ogden's lyrics are already rich and a bit complex. With the music reigned in, there's more impact. Plus, they have good instincts for this stuff, everything blends well, added strings and horns give extra value, and there's lots of warmth and a good felling throughout. The Digital Age, the most groovin' of the numbers, even has the old hand clap-finger snap breakdown at one point, plus a Farfisa organ sound and oohs and ahhs (Jessica Rhaye and Amy Stewart guest on backgrounds). Ali Leonard's violin weaves its way through it all, adding a rich, angelic feel to offset the crunchy guitar chords.
There's a strong soul/R'n'B current as well, which shows the group listened to the right radio hits from the 70's along the way. As sweet as a song like Gentlemen Marry Brunettes is up front, the back line of drums, bass and horns gives it drive and guts. Tight brings might for the Penny Blacks.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).