The Punters get all the big things right
The Punters, along with Ashley MacIsaac have been practically the only artists to merge the two dominant streams of East Coast music - traditional and alternative - with any real success. While Cape Breton's fiddle wizard has ranged eclectically over dance, techno and heavier Zeppelinesque sounds, The Punters have mined a more immediate and obvious strand of angry energetic pub music The St. John's, Newfoundland-based group has a new album that sees it creeping toward the mainstream with their integrity intact and their sights set on bigger things.
If She Said She Couldn't Dance (Independent/Tidemark) sounds like a younger, punkier version of Rawlins Cross, it's probably because Cross member Dave Panting Produced the album. Rawlins's trademarks are all there-the medium tempos, the emphasis on direct original pop songs, the fiddle fills over slightly complex rhythm arrangements-and The Punters benefit from Panting's sense of focus. While they lose a little of their edgy energy, they retain enough raggedness to reassure their fans.
The focal point is clearly guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Larry Foley. He harkens back to sophisticated new wave minstrels like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, writer/performers who mingled anger with candid examinations of modern life.
Foley mixes in a heavy dose of Newfoundland history-there's a cause for anger if there ever was one-wrapped up in traditional and contemporary forms. Modified sea shanties exist side by side with straighforward slabs of pop and rock. Sprinkled throughout are loose jigs and reels that up the tempo and recall the band's kitchen party roots.
While the instrumental tunes reveal a band still intoxicated with the basic joy of playing, Foley's taut originals show a writer of real promise. She Said No is a particularly fine example of economical pop writing from a unique and bittersweet point of view. Catchy yet provocative, it's a memorable tune.
In fact, there's not much difference between catchy original songs like Spanner In The Works, Reena and Go To It and driving versions of traditional songs like Jolly Jack and Heave Away. The same sense of anger and melancholy inform them both. The band tends to slam through the songs, putting Foley's thin baritone up front. It may not be the fullest voice on the East Coast but Foley's sense of commitment and sheer vitality is undeniable.
Likewise Patrick Moran would hardly qualify as Newfoundland's most accomplished fiddler. Yet his playing retains a wild, irresistible quality-slightly fuzzed out and frayed around the edges-that is endearing. Bassist Brian Kenny and drummer Bob Hiscock hold the rhythms down crisply, knowing when to lay back and when to rock. The ensemble playing, clinched by some punchy group vocals on the singalong numbers, shows an impressive range.
There are a few small problems with the CD. Having seen the band put on a torrid set at this year's ECMAs, there's no doubt the album is a little too tame. At 15 selections and 52 minutes, it's a bit long. And I could do without the finger-popping bass lines.
But The Punters have got all the big things exactly right. The writing, the biting rock/pop sound, the energy and charisma is all there for The Punters to be Newfoundland's next big thing.
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