Espanola enter with a rock swagger from the very first moment of opener ‘Tricks of the Heart‘ – if the buzzing guitar hasn’t got you, and you can resist the drum beat just 17 seconds later then that echoey “whoop” that follows immediately after will be the clincher. Yes, Espanola have every element of classy hard grooving, but not over heavy, rock and it’s an infectious mix with half-hearted lyrics of self-recrimination that burst above the buzz and bumble:’I’m digging a hole and I’m bound to jump in” is sung with all the “so what ?” commitment of someone who really doesn’t care. It quickly comes to seem that Espanola are another great Canadian Southern Rock band. Well, no.
Canadian, yes, and a great band which sees songwriter and vocalist Aaron Goldstein laying aside the pedal steel which has seen him play with all sorts of luminaries in order to indulge his guitar prowess on a range of classic rock styles augmenting that Southern Rock sound, making for an album that’s all the better for ringing the changes. ‘Living Room Blues‘ is a superb slow ballad of despair as Goldstein’s song writing mojo takes an exteneded holiday leaving him teetering on despair: “and when I feel the words are feeling mean / I tell myself I was no good anyway / a victim of my burgeoning insanity“. As the album – and the song ‘Outside Saskatoon‘ – proves, that mojo must have returned, as this song’s celebration of the great expanses of Canadian wilderness also pays witness to his returning inspiration: “I wrote this song / By the light of the moon / On a gravel rode / Outside Saskatoon.”
Not all of Canada is quite so inspiring of awe; the title track oozes a morose mood when the call comes to come back to the town of Espanola – a small town at the end of a two lane highway with nothing to recommend it:”when I get to Espanola I’m bound to be lonesome / I’ll look you up / We both know I’m bound to need a friend“. With touches of that pedal steel pulling out the aching lonesomeness of being where one would not be, and with electric guitar blazing a trail through the song it has the feel of another Canadian. It sounds nothing like Neil Young, but it’s reminiscent of Neil Young. It’s the kind of paradox that “two lanes and countless hours is all we know now / At least until the Six comes to an end” can make sense of. These are songs that can bear a near endless repeat, that reflect an empty openness and an overbearing dread of despair – it’s one form of a Canadian outlook. Thoughtfully, the album closes on an acoustic reprise of the song, perfect for that wind-down beer after the long night’s drive.
What Aaron Goldstein and his band mates have made here is a timeless album – it feels like that record you forgot you still had and then find buried at the bottom of the stack. You throw it on, with trepidation – surely it won’t sound as good as you remember it ? Oh, but it does, it so does.