Continuation of Past Greatness, Judged Fairly
Posted February 22, 2010
One of the biggest surprises of the previous decade was the debut album from Canadian root-rockers Newworldson. Released in February of 2008, the album seamlessly mashed 50’s soul, 70’s funk, 90’s jam rock, and plenty of jazzy gospel into a wholly original and fun sound. The album had comedic lyrics, huge amounts of jam-styled solos (from every instrument, even a kazoo), and a solid foundation for future projects. Two years later, the guys are back with their self-titled sophomore album.
Starting out the album with an immediate punch is “You Set the Rhythm,” bouncing with huge standing-bass-lines, a western-movie-styled solo and goofy harmonies. Soon thereafter is album highlight “In Your Arms,” a beautiful tune with crunchy guitars from driving force Josh Toal leading the group through their trademark sound. But much of the album has songs like these: great songs that simply aren’t too different from the debut. Although full of immensely talented musicians who play together and bounce off each other with masterful precision, the band cannot thrive if they keep rereleasing what is essentially the same record. Some of the album’s most notable moments come when the quartet is trying new things.
The first example, lead single “There is a Way,” tones back much of the southern funk in order to perform an inspiring and straightforward exercise in retro-soul. Conversely, second single “That’s Exactly (How I Like It)” takes away the gospel and soul aspects in order to present pure funk, which unfortunately results in the album’s most repetitious and grating track. But this song cannot quite outdo the awkward and out-of-place cover of “Jamaican Praise Medley.” Both songs, the latter being a mash-up of authentic Caribbean hymnals, would be exciting and fun to hear live, but they lack flavor in their recorded versions.
Even though Newworldson clearly love jamming upbeat songs together, their songwriting skills are at a high when they sing ballads. Their debut only had one ballad, but it was a standout track. Here, the main ballad on display is “Rocky Road,” where the superb vocals of Joel Parisian sing, “We’re casting stones even though we’re all sinners, pointing fingers and we’re calling out names. But on this rocky road, there ain’t no one among us without blame.” Another ballad, “O Lament” is like a mix of a Spanish film’s soundtrack, Norah Jones and Thrice’s Earth EP, and the album concludes with a peaceful mood-setting ballad “Weary.” All future releases could be stronger if the band would allow for turning down the tempo sliders more often.
Newworldson is more of a continuation of prior greatness than a praiseworthy piece of art by itself, but the potential remains and the band’s debut continues to be one of the greatest hidden gems from the past decade. A good cliché to sum up this album: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Anyone who considers themselves a son of this New World in which we live can find pleasure in something this band does. If nothing else, they always have the ability to put a smile on the listener’s face.
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