Album Review: Pistol George Warren - Mindemoya

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When a stranger brags, "I'm in a rock band," you can imagine their sound. Self-proclaimed rockers haven't had much allure this decade. They've become the excitable inappropriate uncles of the music industry. Sudbury, Ontario's Pistol George Warren are not rockers. But they have walked a mile in their shoes. The group play a raw and soulful combination of blues, country and the rock 'n' roll prototype. In the past, they made a point of playing every Northern Ontario bar possible. Subsequently, Pistol George Warren have a sagaciously seasoned dynamic. Their debut album, Back to the North Country, graciously walked the line between country and rock 'n' roll. Since its 2011 release, PGW have expanded their operation and tested its durability. On Mindemoya, they sound stronger than ever.

For their sophomore album, the band migrated to Manitoulin Island with producer Dave MacKinnon's Junkshop Mobile Studio. The trek to Lake Kagawong was beneficial for the most part. Given their strength as performers, these songs could have maintained their integrity regardless of geography. Nonetheless, it's probably best to leave the city behind when embracing country so hard.

What puts Pistol George Warren ahead of so many bands carrying the country/rock 'n' roll title is their kinship. There's an innate sense of community that has driven the group since day one. Mindemoya's first single, "Front Porch", offers a glance into this fellowship. Vocalist Maty Ralph narrates a night of alcohol-induced communion that culminates in a collective chorus. The band hold things down with celebratory blues-infused rock 'n' roll reminiscent of the Rolling Stones. Thankfully, the recordings are raw, allowing the band to channel the energy of their spirited stage shows. It won't take more than a single spin to get this song to stain your thoughts.

In the past year, Shari Diaz, Jen McKerral and Steph Saroka joined the band on backing vocals. Much of the first half of the album is dedicated to showcasing their contributions. It pays off as their presence helps define some of Mindemoya's most memorable melodic moments. In "No Stranger" and "Do Right Woman", the girls play congenial congregation to Ralph's prickly preacher. The pinnacle being Diaz's cries of "Goddamn lonesome!" and "Woman!" while doing her best Aretha Franklin.

"Be Your Dog" is brimming with Motown charm and soulful swagger. Verses layer a gospel-inspired rich versus rugged vocal call-and-response over melodic bass-heavy leads. Meanwhile, the choruses explode with full-group vocals, hand-claps and a bursting horn section. Every hand on-deck contributes, giving the impression that these will be concert gems.

The latter half of Mindemoya travels in another direction. "Old Like a Stone" is gospel-infused Southern rock. The energized performance resembles Creedance Clearwater Revival at full-force. Meanwhile, "Human Unconditioned" echoes a toned-down version of Sticky Fingers closer "Moonlight Mile". "Rocky Mountain Blues Pt. 2" wastes no time erupting with Hendrix-inspired guitar licks before landing near Crazy Horse. Despite their sea of influences, Pistol George Warren keep their style grounded.

The album's most sombre number, "A Voice in the Night" gives guitarist Jon Danyliw a chance to shine. Here he evokes Townes Van Zandt during verses before intensifying over electrified accompaniment. When PGW strip away the distortion and layers of vocals, these are simple songs. It's really a testament to their talented musicianship that this record sounds so ambitious.

Mindemoya makes a leap of faith ahead of Pistol George Warren's next logical step. PGW won't save rock 'n' roll or raise the dead. They're much smarter than that.

Tags: Pistol George Warren, Sudbury, David MacKinnon, Soul, Country, Mindemoya, Andy Magoffin, Cosmic Dave's Record Factory, Manitoulin Island, Rock 'n' Roll

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