Newworldson (self titled)
Label: Inpop Records
Length: 12 tracks 42:50
Many of us have been waiting for the follow-up to Newworldson's Salvation Station album, wondering if they could fulfill the potential displayed on that outing. Did they put all their musical eggs in one basket or would they be able to pull something creative out of their collective hats for that all-important follow-up project? The good news is that the Canadian soul/funk band has not only succeeded in sustaining and solidifying their musical identity on this self-titled release, but they've also taken a huge step forward as musicians. On Newworldson, Joel Parisen (Vocals, Keyboards), Josh Toal (Guitar, Vocals), Rich Moore (Acoustic, Electric Bass), and Mark Rogers (Drums) perform with a confidence and a wide creative reach that their previous work merely hinted at. Although they haven't abandoned their 'old-school' approach, Newworldson removes this quartet from the ranks of groups like Five Iron Frenzy, The Ws and The Supertones, whose music was more like a novelty act, aping styles that they didn't truly own, but could play – Newworldson is more akin to Brian Setzer, Denver and the Mile High Orchestra or Dan Hicks, musicians with souls that naturally draw from another musical sensibility.
It all boils down to authenticity, and these boys have got it.
The danger with a group that seems to specialize in stylistic time-shifting is that they'll be branded as a 'youth group' band – a phenomenon in Christian music that has turned off many through the years. Fortunately, Newworldson has neither abandoned their musical chops or The Gospel, and those that choose to overlook this engaging album in deference to hipper-than-thou 'snobbishness' will be all the poorer for it. The music on this project is a synthesis of reggae, R&B, soul, funk, and zydeco with a tasty sprinkling of classic '70s-influenced rock, a smattering of British Invasion, and good old down-and-dirty rock & roll basics.
The first track, “You Set the Rhythm,” might remind you of the title track of 2008's Salvation Station, and could fool you into thinking that they played it safe and stuck to the formula of the previous album. Things get a little heavier, though, with the rock/reggae of “Listen to The Lord,” which has the first of several tasty organ breaks and a more confident sounding guitar.
Things kick into gear with the late-sixties sounding guitar and bass run that opens “In Your Arms,” a genuine pop masterpiece with hooks, hand-claps, a memorable guitar break, and eminently singable lyrics – it only took three songs to break away from any hint of formula, yet the song has the distinct Newworldson sound, blending old and new with energy and creative spirit. Immediately following is “There is a Way,” a very commercial, moderately tempo-ed ballad that proves that 'commercial' isn't a bad word. Parisen's vocals fly off this track with such elegance and style that it's almost impossible not to want to sing along – at least with the tastefully-mixed Gospel choir that joins in so perfectly near the end of the song.
“Do You Believe in Love” heats things up with some truly funky guitar, Dr. John-style piano licks and a rollicking Bo Diddley-influenced rhythm that explodes into a full-tilt rock & roll jam by the time the track ends. Minimalist, basic, elemental – great work.
The band struts some heavy, atmospheric stuff with the riff-driven “That's Exactly How I Like It,” a song that somehow has a late-Beatles aura about the guitar sound and proclaims: “Lady Luck ain’t always in the mood / Four leaf clovers are hard to find / Fortune tellers can be so shrewd / Quit pokin’ ‘round inside my mind / I don’t believe much in luck / God’s the only one that I trust / And that’s exactly how I like it.”
The balance of the album is made up of old-school soul ballads, rockers and ska-infused funk, finished off by a 50's style R&B / Gospel ballad. The playing throughout is excellent – like a band that blows you away in some small club. Self produced, with help from Justin Koop, Newworldson wisely eschews the excesses of studio tricks and concentrates on the interplay of the four musicians. Parisen's vocals are pure, fluid and distinct and his keyboard work is from the Stax Records / Gospel / jazz side of the musical tracks. Moore's acoustic and electric bass work ranges from jazz to pop to rock smoothly and with style. Josh Toal's guitar work is sweet and funky but can rock hard when that's what's called for. Mark Rogers is a drummer's drummer – always 'in the pocket,' never overpowering the other players, and possessing stunning technique. This is The Basics done well – very well.
“Total Eclipse” is a funky reggae that will have your body moving from the first notes – Rogers' drums and Toal's guitar parts in particular make this track a stand-out. This is followed by an unexpected pleasure - “O Lament,” a slow, smoky, mostly-acoustic song that drips with mood and mystery. Is it a song about a reformed prisoner contemplating a jail break or is it about a believer trying to escape some kind of persecution?
“...There’s a small patch of grass that I’ve handled / Through the gaps in the bars left a candle / And there’s a lapse when the guards switch their watches / No one watches / No one watches / O lament, O lament / My Savior awaits me there / O lament, O lament / Why if I die should I care?...”
Either way, it's a dark tune with an almost South-of-the-border atmosphere that adds a remarkable flavor to the project and shows the musical range of this surprising band.
This track is wisely followed by “Bun Dem,” a medley of Jamaican praise songs that's irresistible fun and will have you joining in despite any reluctance you might think you'll have. Trust me.
Before the 45 minutes or so of this CD are finished Newworldson takes us on a musical trip to a simpler, funkier place than we're used to – and it feels good. This band wears its message on its sleeve – and they wear it well. This self-titled project should impress even those who are skeptical of explicitly 'Christian' content. Newworldson is the real deal, delivering real music with a real mission.