Turn, turn, turn. To everything there is a season, Pete Seeger and the Byrds and the Grapes of Wrath would agree. The Grapes acrimoniously disbanded back in 1992, and now the first album from the original three members since then begins with the sweet and chipper jangle-rock of Good to See You, a song about seasons spent apart and the warmth of reunions: “I’ve been high, I’ve been low,” sings Tom Hooper, “It’s funny how the years just seem to come and go.”
Well, Tom, the years don’t seem to come and go – they do come and go. Haven’t you seen the movies, with the furious flipping of calendars and the accelerated winding of clocks? It is real, with a long time passed since the British Columbians’ 1991 album These Days. As they sang then, right before the lawyers got involved, “there are times when all is wrong, and no one knows whose side you’re on.”
Singer-guitarist Kevin Kane and bassist-vocalist Hooper partnered up for the 2000 album Field Trip, but without original drummer Chris Hooper (brother of Tom). He’s back in the fold for High Road, a dandy folk-rock and harmony record, so-titled, perhaps, in the spirit of conciliation. Songwriting chores are split down the middle: six tracks for Kane and six from Tom Hooper. Reasonable. Their voices, draped in a soft gauze and a speckled late-summer glow, are fairly identical. Only on the stripped-down coda-like Sad Melodies is Hooper’s singing naked and distinguishable from that of Kane’s. It’s a bar song, a warm, strummed thing with piano and accordion that Keith Richards and Gram Parsons might have enjoyed. It’s a standout, because of its comfort and sympathy, and because it sounds nothing like the rest of the record.
The rest of the record sounds fine, mind you. Jangle ages well, as does amiable melody and professional songwriting. Isn’t There has a punchy, Tragically Hip-lite feel. Mexico sports a clappy cosmic-cowboy charm and advocates a trip south to alleviate the depression of northern winters.
I wonder about I’m Lost (I Miss You), an inadvisable maudlin indulgence by Hooper. The thrice-repeated refrain is “I miss you so bad.” It is possible that Hooper pines for Eric Carmen, though I may be All By Myself on that one.
Otherwise, High Road is golden, with a nice track-to-track flow.
The Grapes of Wrath are back together, at least for the moment. There is a time for love and a time for hate, and a time for peace. Kane and the Hoopers swear it’s not too late.
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