Just A Season- Leave to Come Home review

Just a Season Leave to Come Home JustaSeason.ca Northern Electric

“Just A Season is a folk-rock band from Vancouver led by Scott Smith. The band’s sound recalls an era when folk, rock, and country met in a sun-baked embrace.”

Nailed it: an ideal two-word introduction to Just A Season. All I had to do was copy and paste from their Bandcamp page.

It isn’t going to get better from here, but I’ll give it a try because, well—I am completely gobsmacked by this album.

This is the third album from Scott Smith’s band, (named for a latter-day song from The Byrds?) and (again) my introduction to a group whom I should have encountered before now. I’ll blame previous PR folk for not getting their previous albums to me for review.

Beyond the folk-rock-country descriptor, I will add power-pop to the mix, that rare, ideal hybrid perfected 40-some years ago by Phil Seymour, Dwight Twilley, Marshall Crenshaw, and The Records. That is where my ears honed in while listening to “Leave to Come Home,” “Queen of the Underground,” and “Will You Stay?” True, power-pop didn’t typically include pedal steel (mostly Matt Kelly here) but the catchy choruses and straightforward verses of these songs took me back to high school drives and cassettes in a friend’s emerald Pontiac (it may not have been a Pontiac: I’m not a car guy.)  

With flair and nuanced aggression, the band rips through these songs, providing reprieve from the dramatic energy of the album’s majority by slowing things a bit on numbers such as “Saw You Yesterday,” “I Will Fight, I Will Fight and I Will Win,” and the moody instrumental “Stars Burn Out.”  

In places, such as “She’s The One,” “You’re Gonna Be Okay,” and “Anything You Want” it is as if the E Street Band and Marshall Tucker bands got together for Champagne Jam 2022 to produce an explosion of cascading guitars and southern-rock bliss. Hard truths are heard in “Never Too Far From the Blues” and “That Sunday Sound,” a song Tony Joe White might have enjoyed.

The one-sheet tells me that Scott Smith has played with Barney Bentall, Aaron Pritchett, and a range of Vancouver bands I’ve never heard. As a singing frontman, I have heard few better than Smith this year. His voice is ideal for the rock side of Americana, and while Jason Isbell is an easy comparison, I am not too proud to land there. In fact, if Isbell & the 400 Unit had released Leave to Come Home, I don’t think too many would be disappointed.

Just a Season also includes harmony singer Ashely Grant (featured throughout, but most strongly on “That Sunday Sound”), drummer Liam Macdonald (with Leon Power playing on half the tracks), John Sponarski (electric guitar), as well as Kelly with Smith credited with electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, harmonica, and a bit of pedal steel. Brad Ferguson, Jeremy Holmes, and producer Erik Nielsen share bass duties. Meredith Bates (violin) and Peggy Lee (cello) sweeten select moments. Every listen I notice something additional to appreciate—a cymbal clash within “Leave to Come Home,” a bit of vocal wonder deep in the mix (“Queen of the Underground”), a banjo or guitar effect previously overlooked.

One comes away from Leave to Come Home feeling good about the state of Canadian roots music. The songs are generally positive and hopeful in message and tone. The bonds and community of friendship (“Anything You Want,” “Queen of the Underground”) and personal determination (“I Will Fight, I Will Fight and I Will Win,” “You’re Gonna Be Okay”) are captured, as are the pulls of romance (“She’s The One,”) the music road (“Saw You Yesterday,”) and stability (“Leave to Come Home,”Never Too Far From the Blues.”)

I’ve been enjoying Just A Season’s Leave to Come Home for several weeks, and part of the reason this review is delayed (the album came out March 4) is because I was confident any words I could gather would fail to express my admiration for the recording. Evidence: this faltering review.

My advice: trust your ears. Play the videos. Stream the songs. And then go and find the album, pay the $15, and take the album with you on every spring and summer drive you embark upon in the coming weeks and months.

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