CD Baby [Released 24.04.14]
Canadian soft rock outfit the J.Houston Band combine heartfelt lyrics with mid tempo rock and Americana on a song driven album in search of a decent producer.
‘The Hunter’ grows on you with repeated plays, but the title track should surely have been the lead cut rather than the final song.
Ironically enough, J. Houston mentions in the band’s PR that the concept of the album came from the songs lyricist, Jane Haskins, but it’s a chance missed and one they may regret given it’s the album highlight.
As it is, the band rely on the strong environmental message of ‘No Exit’ to draw us in, before slipping into a funky relationship song ‘Finger Pointing’, on which J. Houston searing guitar line rips through the rhythm track to great effect.
‘The Hunter’s has three outstanding tracks; ‘In Bloom’, ‘Too Late’ and the title track and though the rest is at the least enjoyable enough, they lack a fiery edge.
It’s hard to criticise an independent release for sounding like a demo, but the band has the raw material and playing ability, but what’s lacking is a strident sonic quality and an experienced producer.
The band originally came together when guitarist and vocalists J. Houston met the classically trained bass player Carolyn Saini, while boisterous drummer John Chapman completed the triumvirate. The result is an album full of potentially good songs that need a stronger performance.
‘Thinking About You’ for example, lopes along and struggles with a poor vocal and bv’s that should be higher in the mix. The bluesy ‘In The Bloom’ is much better, as J.Houston revels on some spacey blues licks over Chapman’s delicate brush strokes.
It’s so good it sounds as if its come from a different session. The gentle chiming Floydian guitar figure is bathed in echo and reverb, while the vocal just about makes it in a Jerry Garcia kind of way. The band leans into the groove and makes the most of the space to let the track breathe and they palpably relax
‘The Life’ borrows Keith Richard’s ‘Satisfaction’ riff on an ode to the Stones which includes some reworked lyrics from ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and some great slide guitar playing.
‘So Mean’ is a beefy instrumental on which the guitar temporarily drops way down the mix, but recovers to cut a thrust over Chapman’s cymbal splashes. ‘Too Late’ sums up the band understated style on a gently voiced Americana duet with a resonant hook, that you could imagine Neil Young tackling.
The reflective ‘Sea of Uncertainly’ is another potentially strong track, with a refreshing minimalist arrangement and they finish with the smouldering acoustic/electric title track, which builds impressively over a pounding drum track but fades all too soon.
Good songs, tasteful playing and decent arrangements, ‘The Hunter’ bristles with potential. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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