Every year I find that I’ve missed a few very strong albums that were sent to me for review but for whatever reason (excuse) I didn’t get to write about. So I try to rectify the situation buy writing a few capsule reviews before the previous year is too far in the rear view.
2021 saw plenty of roots music for us writing sorts to pontificate about, and I did more than my share. Here is an album that I missed:
Bringing to mind a lost Bruce Cockburn track, Robert Billard & the Cold Calls’ Stop opens with “Road to Nowhere,” an atmospheric song of personal discovery. The rest of the album is a blues-rock showcase. Imagine Warren Zevon fronting the Butterfield Blues Band, without the harmonica, and you are halfway to imagining what I’m hearing on this lyrically-significant album. An all-star cast of Canada’s finest are featured including Trooper’s Clayton Hill and Guy Wilson-Roberts on drums, bassists Alexander ‘A-Train’ Boynton (Here’s the World For Ya-era Payolas and Rock and Hyde) and Tobin Frank, and guitarists JW-Jones and Tony ‘Wild T’ Springer. The keyboards are handled primarily by Murray Porter with Gowan and Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne sitting in on a single track each.
I found that I best enjoyed this self-titled release when I removed all distractions and cranked the stereo to a level not normally visited. Informed by Billard’s experiences in the Canadian north (Iqaluit, I believe), songs including “I’ll Leave You Alone” and “Six Ptarmigan” (also featuring Gowan on background vocals) strike a chord, with the meditative “Groove” featuring some hot guitar from Jones. The closing trio of “Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” “Waiting on Time,” and “Home” (featuring incredible vocals from Tonye Aganba) sends us searching for the remote to start the album all over again. Now based in New Westminster, Billard’s voice is infused with a plaintive, ‘lost soul’ quality that pairs well with his aggressive instrumentalists. A terrific album that I truly regret ignoring upon release. (When touring, Robert Billard & the Cold Calls are Billard, Hill, Budd Marr, and Frank bleeding Soda of the Imps.)