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Kevin Kane, Chris Hooper and Tom Hooper are back together. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Kevin Kane, Chris Hooper and Tom Hooper are back together. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

DISC OF THE WEEK

Grapes of Wrath reunite with the High Road Add to ...

  • Title High Road
  • Artist The Grapes of Wrath
  • Label Aporia
  • Genre folk
  • Rating 3/4

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.”

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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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SYNTH ROCK

  • Delta Machine
  • Depeche Mode
  • Columbia
  • Two and a half stars

“And if you stay a while, I’ll penetrate your soul, I’ll bleed into your dreams.” Dave Gahan, the deep-gazing singer of the brooding lords of synthesized rock, lays down the deal of Depeche Mode on Welcome to My World, the lead track of the band’s 13th album. If we were looking to compare the new record to an old one, 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion might be the one. Angel is all leather pants and electro-gospel – a crawling king snake between the pews. Elements of dub are detected among the 13 selections, with occasional seeps and snatches of blues too. If the idea was to put out the sort of big material suitable for arenas and amphitheatres, the mission is accomplished. But the record loses it sparks as it goes, and, as for penetrating souls, I don’t feel it by the end. Brad Wheeler

INDIE ROCK

  • Horse Chief! War Thief!
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  • Saved by Vinyl
  • Three stars

Who’s in this band, anyhow? Sounds like David Byrne, Syd Barrett, Jack White, a hallucinating Indian shaman and a bag full of Yoko Ono. There’s a bluesy whimsy and beat-and-drone aesthetic to eleven collages from the Calgary shape-shifters, Ghostkeeper. And while there are no handles to grab this curious record, some will find charm to the weirdness. Gospel Slinger bleeps and melodiously raps, with historical references to smallpox-infested blankets. The fevered HCWT staggers and shimmies – there’s something about “phony hippie” sounds. This is a new sort of psychedelia, one not yet invented, and maybe never will. B.W.

ROCK

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  • The Strokes

  • RCA/Sony

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It’s ironic that The Strokes have been trapped in amber by their first album, given how it was the very definition of retro from the moment it came out in 2001. The band of Peter Pans has been stuck in Never-Never Land ever since, essaying disparate styles from new wave to synth-pop in order to escape the long shadow cast by Is This It – and never quite succeeding. Comedown Machine is more cohesive than the derided 2011 reunion disc, Angles, and more fun; its speedy, jittery ditties resemble ’80s video-game music, with cheap-sounding synths spidering through One Way Trigger and compressed neon guitar licks elbowing Julian Casablancas’s always-disaffected croon in Happy Ending. As pleasant as it is to hear the whole group moving in the same direction, you still get the sense The Strokes’ own bar was set painfully low. Dave Morris

CLASSICAL

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Giovanni Pergolesi died at 26, but both his Stabat Mater and the comic intermezzo, La Serva Padrona, long outlived him: J. S. Bach even gave the Stabat Mater a new text in German (and a viola line). Pergolesi’s Septem Verba a Christo – a cycle of seven short cantatas for Good Friday – has long been considered spurious, but the 2009 discovery of an additional manuscript suggests it may be authentic after all, although it sounds a little kitschy to me (as does Jacobs’s interpretation). The texts are sentimentalized elaborations on the seven phrases uttered by Jesus on the cross, and the music is flamboyantly operatic, with both tender and bravura da capo arias for Jesus (bass or tenor) and the Soul (soprano or alto), and striking, virtuoso obbligato parts for horn, harp, muted trumpet, viola or cello. Elissa Poole

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