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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Do Good Assassins - Rome

The Do Good Assassins – Rome
2012, The Do Good Assassins
Even in the early days of his career, Ron Hawkins was lauded as one of the finest lyricists Canada had to offer.  His penchant for super-imposing darkness and light in his songs won him a generation of fans, a place in the Canadian Independent Music Awards Hall of Fame (as a member of Lowest of the Low) and a hard core group of fiercely loyal fans.  After flying mostly solo for a number of years, Hawkins felt the call to work collaboratively again on new material.  Thus was born The Do Good Assasins.  With the help of Derrick Brady (Hawksley Workman, Dodge Fiasco, Stifler’s Mom); Jesse Capon (Katey Morley, Big Rude Jake, Emily Weedon); Alex McMaster (Rob Szabo, Lily Frost, A Northern Chorus) and Steve Singh (Ron Sexsmith, Feist, Kiki Dee), Hawkins found a new vehicle and outlet for his iconic songwriting.  The Do Good Assassins’ debut album, Rome, drops on November 1, 2012 and is a two-disc affair.  The first disc is a collection of ten rock and roll tunes that trade darkness and light.  Set two is a countrified collection that mixes and matches emotions and musical hues with some pretty amazing results.

The Do Good Assassins get rolling with “Sadder Days”, sounding like a snap pre-punk outfit from the early 1970’s.  Rock and rhythm and blues drive the band along here in an incredibly catchy and radio-ready opener.  Ron Hawkins and Steve Singh trade vocal lines on “Fire Alarm”, a catchy mid-tempo number that’s reminiscent of Hawkins’ Rusty Nails days.  Ron Hawkins has long been one of the finest lyricists Canada has produced, and that fact is reaffirmed on “Public Transit”.  Opening with the line “Well it’s not so lonely to be all alone in a city of kisses and tells”, Hawkins explores the dichotomy of loneliness and closeness in a city where people are never far away but no one is truly close.  It’s an amazing piece of songwriting for anyone who has ever lived in a large city.
“Propellers” is a list song that explores the push/pull of love through widely ranging and sometimes diffuse analogies.  Hawkins’ voice brings a timely sense of melancholy to the proceedings in what ultimately ends up being a song of aching need.  This is a moment both tragic and beautiful; plaintive in presentation but with tremendous emotional depths.  “N.Y.C. vs. Jeffrey Brown” is a Steve Singh tune that’s amazingly catchy tune with distinctively 1970’s accents.  Singh takes the mic this time out and rocks out with undertones of funk and soul.  Don’t expect to sit still through this tune; I don’t think it’s possible.  The musical tour continues on “The Last Casanova In Town”, which has a decidedly retro feel and a catchy melody that you simply can’t get out of your head.  Once again, don’t expect to sit still.

Classic Ron Hawkins songwriting is on display in “A Spy In The 9 To 5”, a song about those artistic souls who masquerade their way through the days so they can live in the night.  Urgent, good time rock and roll takes over for “Wrap You Up (And Take You Home)”.  You’ll dance your ass off in this song of dance floor-born obsession, helped along by the guitar and horn-driven arrangement.  The energy stays high for  “Home Sweet Home”, a high strung rhythm and blues driven rocker about friends who have fallen by life’s wayside; lonely souls who met early ends.  Hawkins wraps this up with a classic couplet: “It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city to bury it alive.”  The rock portion of Rome closes out with a life reflection for someone born in the era of JFK.  “Bobby Was The D.A.” continues the trend of incredibly catchy rock and roll with a retro feel, while exploring the insecurities of the Baby Boom generation.
Disc two of Rome, the County Disc, finds Hawkins expanding on the country sound he has been developing over his past two albums. “Capistrano” is a beautiful song of free spirited love and exploration. It’s a sweet and upbeat love song, more the surprising for Hawkins’ frequent brushes with darkness and loss over the years in his songwriting. Alex McMaster gets a brief vocal cameo here and shows off a surprisingly rich and adept country voice. “Too Far” bears the instrumental marks of a country tune, but is more of a down-tempo pop/rock number. It’s well written, but the country connection is tenuous at best, with the guitar work sounding more like something you’d find on a Lowest of the Low album.

"Swing Low" is a ballad full if melancholy reflections. The Do Good Assassins find the beauty in a series of small personal tragedies, divining it in an incredibly nuanced arrangement around Ron Hawkins' affecting vocal line. Steve Singh once again takes the mic for "In The Chest Of The Land", a pragmatic and complex folk number that reflects optimism and hope.  "Spotlight" is an expression of frustration that one conception of the good life is not as brilliant as it might seem. The abject melancholy here is powerful, and Hawkins nails the moment with a stellar performance. "Rusty Chain" is a driven little country rocker about live gone sour, revenge and penance. This is classic stuff, replete with hooks and a lyrical flow that pulls you along. You won't be able to get this one out if your head.

The Do Good Assassins slow things down for the lonely beauty of "A Little Rain", while exploring the sometimes inevitable curves life throws our way. Mournful pedal steel serves as a co-vocal for Hawkins' rough hewn lead. "Us Eat Them" is a vibrant ad viral rocker dressed in country clothes that will get your feet moving. "Little Volcano" is a love song wrought from the darkness of personal reflection. Hawkins finds beauty in the mundane details here, creating the sort of poetry for which he has become renowned; even the minimalist arrangement ads to the milieu. The album winds down with the lonely strains of "Rome", detailing the tendency of life and love to decay. Hawkins once again finds beauty in heartache, scratching out one of the finest prices of songwriting he has done.

In this highly digital age it is often the case that the concept of an album as a body of work is irrelevant.  The Do Good Assassins apparently have not forgotten what it’s like to live with a song cycle from end to end.  The fact that Rome essentially encompasses two complete, distinct and incredibly well done song cycles is mind-blowing.  Ron Hawkins’ songwriting is as stark and beautiful as ever it was.  Steve Singh brings a brighter songwriting dynamic that serves as a very capable, if occasional balance.  The overall musicianship here is thrilling to a music fan.  Nothing is overdone; nothing left unsaid.  Rome has an organic and complete feel that is so often lacking in music today.  This is a must have for any music fan, and a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.  This Do Good Assassins will hook you on the first pass and continue to grow on you.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
The Do Good Assassins will be performing a series of album release shows for album during the month of November throughout Ontario and here in Buffalo, NY. 

11/01/12 - The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON
11/02/12 - Mohawk Place, Buffalo, NY
11/03/12 - Mohawk Place, Buffalo, NY
11/09/12 - The Grad Club, Kingston, ON
11/10/12 - The Elmdale House Tavern, Ottawa, ON
11/16/12 - Murphy's Pub - Oshawa, ON
11/17/12 - The Merchant Ale House - St. Catherines, ON

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Joebuffalo72 said...

Can't wait for Friday night at Mohawk Place!

Athol Metal said...

On 'Little Volcano' who is the horn soloist, and on what?

It sounds like a flugelhorn to me (VERY reminiscent of Chet Baker's solo on Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding' (1983))

If it is a flugelhorn, it's not credited in the album sleeve.

Athol Metal