Leave No Bridge Unburned
4 out of 5 stars
If you’re looking for a solid sense of Americana, sometimes you need to leave the country and go north. That’s one lesson we’ve learned from the Band, Neil Young, Colin Lindon, Blue Rodeo and other Canadians that have made their mark on American music. Add another name to that list with Whitehorse. The married Canadian duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland has played in each other’s groups for years before finally partnering in 2010 as Whitehorse. The result was their critically acclaimed 2012 album (enigmatically titled The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss) and a few EPs, one sung in French.
The multi-instrumentalist couple who creatively employed tape loops and overdubs on their debut full length, grows the palette for this sophomore release. Producers Gus Van Go and Werner F add their own extra guitar and bass. They also bring in real drummers (partially replacing loops) and keyboards to further fatten the groove. The result is immediately evident on the opening “Baby What’s Wrong” with its funky percussion, creepy organ and spaghetti Western reverbed guitars. The Bo Diddley influenced jungle beats of the noir “Downtown” just wouldn’t be as effective without full throttle tom toms driving the beat. The approach is tough and swampy. These tunes jump out of the speakers with a sharp determination that belies the sweet male/female harmonies thrusting even the most sedate material into rugged, red dirt territory.
Those who remember the underappreciated Timbuk 3, who also started as a husband and wife duo before expanding into a full band, will notice the similarities. That’s especially the case with similarly edgy, thought-provoking lyrics to songs that introduce such intriguing concepts as those of “Fake Your Death (and I’ll Fake Mine)” and the stripped down guitar/percussion of the ballad “Dear Irony.” When the twosome gets bluesy on the Delta-inspired “The One I Hurt,” the raw, gutsy, intense attack conjures up bluesmen such as Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. The pumping rhythm section brings the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” lick to life on the creeping “Sweet Disaster.” Even the stark yet effective retro graphics that evoke an old Hitchcockian thriller movie poster convey a sense of danger to the proceedings.
Without knowing, it would be impossible to peg Whitehorse as Canadians since they exert such a firm grasp on the grittier side of American southern roots rock and roll, far closer to Tony Joe White than say the Guess Who. With Leave No Bridge Unburned, they successfully magnify an already impressively established sound and create one of the best and most exciting Americana albums of the year.