Just in case you’re a YouTube junky, chasing down the latest viral sensations, let’s clear something up – the LeBarons we’re talking about here are the alt-country band from Ontario, and not the Broadway and Disney musicals singing Mormon family from Utah. If you’re disappointed then…sorry…but this is, after all, Americana UK. Also, if you’re thinking “‘Summer of Death’ – that sounds like it might be nicely dark and introspective“, then again, sorry, but no. The LeBarons are a six-piece band with their music deep in the roots end of roots-rock, and ‘Summer of Death‘ is far from morbid – it’s exuberant and life-affirming, but not in a creepy or overly saccharine way.
Opener ‘Long Highway‘ is a steady paced example of that roots-rock, eulogising endless highways ahead and problems falling behind, although there are hints that the sense of escape is somewhat illusory, a childish escapade “We were just kids dreaming of the road“. There’s a change of pace on ‘Bad News‘ which lifts off with a stomping modern alt-folk beat, somewhat like the Lumineers, before detouring into Felice Brothers territory with the revelation of bad mistake after bad mistake being made “Got lost on a train back to Amsterdam / Well God damn I messed it up again / I’m standing at the station in the pissing rain, you know I was missing you then / I don’t need no headlines that tell me that I’m screwed / Well I took one look and knew that it was bad news.” Throw in an atmospheric bridge and there’s a song that’s just full of surprises.
It’s not all fast-paced and rocking in the world of LeBarons, ‘Quiet‘ is a gentle love ballad which opens acoustically and even when the rest of the band file in behind singer Chris MacDonald it retains a restrained feel befitting the title. ‘Born in ’76‘ is a haunting song of growing up restless, wanting more than a small town had to offer. Closer ‘Nothing Left to Say‘ may be the best song on the album, which throws in lyrics which recall, not for the first time on the album, early works by Josh Ritter in tone: “I may not be the sharpest knife / But I gleam pretty bright when no-one’s there / Oh how I wish that you could see / that I’m like that / You would have known that I had always had your back“. This, and friendship falling apart lyrics, are tied to a strand of anthemic music. It’s that exuberance again.
With just a previous single and an EP to their name LeBarons have successfully stepped up to the full album length – carefully crafted songs and excellence of playing throughout make ‘Summer of Death‘ an album that sticks in the memory.