Friday, February 9, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1103: Whitehorse

I kick-started a four day weekend last night with a night out on the town and today I am paying the price for one too many vodka shots.

Disc 1103 is… The Road to Massey Hall
Artist: Whitehorse

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover? I guess this is supposed to represent a road? It also looks a like a plate of eggs with ketchup. Hmmm…I think hunger is finally breaking through my hangover. I’m going to get lunch when I’m done this review.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve been a fan of Whitehorse for quite a while, and knew both Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet as solo artists before they formed the band. This was just me buying their new album when it came out.

How It Stacks Up:  I have seven Whitehorse albums (four full length albums and three EPs). Of those seven, “The Road to Massey Hall” is the worst.

Ratings: 2 stars

The Road to Massey Hall is a collection of six cover songs. Recording a cover can be a tricky thing. You want it to sound sufficiently different from the original, but you also want to capture the magic that made it a great song in the first place. On “The Road to Massey Hall” Whitehorse falls short on both counts.

The best thing about the record is the guitar work. Both Doucet and McClelland are accomplished players and on the opening track, a cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” Doucet’s guitar is big, bold and evocative. I’m also a fan of McClelland’s voice, and those parts of “Winterlong” where she sings solo are solid. Unfortunately for most of the song they sing in a loose harmony that buries her in the mix.

There isn’t anything terrible about any of these songs (hence the 2 stars) but I didn’t feel like I got anything new out of them either. Whitehorse attempts to strip them down, which is often a good thing, but the effect here is to make them drag. Everything seems just a little bit slower, but the gravitas they’re going for doesn’t translate.

Ironically, the fact that these are some of my favourite songs made me like hearing them less. “Dark Angel” is one of my absolute favourite Blue Rodeo songs. Whitehorse sings it OK, but it feels more like a rehearsal than a polished cover. Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is better than that risible dance remix that came out a few years ago, but that’s not saying much. In both cases, it just made me want to hear the originals.

Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” is a highlight on the album, with some stellar singing from McClelland. The slower pace here make the lyrics a little less nasty, and even infuses them with a hint of romance that is less evident when Bob’s running the show. The guitar solo wasn’t great (too much focus on reverb) but it didn’t wreck it either.

Un Canadien Errant” was also good, but I have it on their all-French EP, “Ephemere Sans Repere” so I was really just buying it twice at that point.

The album has a sub-title of “A Salutation to Six Stellar Songs” which is a bit odd. Are they really saying hello to these songs, or are do they mean to pay them homage (which would be a salute, not a salutation). However, I’m currently reading Rebecca Gowers’ “Horrible Words: a Guide to the Misuse of English” which notes it is OK to morph the meaning of words if you do it with a purpose, so I’m feeling less prescriptive than usual. I’m going to assume two smart people like Luke and Melissa deliberately used salutation to suggest both a greeting and a tip of the hat. Why not?

While there are a couple of solid covers on “the Road to Massey Hall” I mostly wanted to hear the originals, or to hear Whitehorse do their own music instead (which is awesome). If an album’s main effect on you is to inspire you to play a different album, it isn’t a good sign. As a result, I’m going to send this record off to a home that will appreciate it more than I do.

Best tracks: Winterlong, It Ain’t Me Babe

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