Ever have one of those dreams where you’re in some dusty ghost town, alone? Time is suspended and you have no idea how you got there or how you might get out. Suddenly, you’re transfixed by music coming from one of the abandoned buildings. You enter, and it’s just you, the band, and the music. Reason and reality no longer apply, yet you don’t want this moment—this dream—to ever end.
Listening to Stonetrotter’s full-length self-titled debut album is a close approximation of that experience. Maybe it’s because they have existed to this point in relative isolation—the wilds north of Toronto—building a sound around the contributions of five voices drawn together out of a shared desire to illuminate the darkness of their surroundings.
Stonetrotter fulfills the promise of the band’s first two EPs, the foundation upon which this gleaming sanctuary of a record now beckons weary travelers. What’s clear is that the weaving together of the various strands comprising its sonic tapestry has taken tremendous dedication, and that each member’s unique touch has been integral. Often, it begins with lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Allen, whose approach consistently treads a fine line between plaintive and radiant. Complementing that is pianist Courtney Dubois and her ethereal vocals, which add unique depth to the storytelling.
The colour and texture provided by lead guitarist Ben Pearson, bassist/vocalist Ben Lemen, and drummer Evan Dwinnell complete the overall portrait the record presents of a band able to combine their identities for the common benefit of the music. The many subtleties embedded within Stonetrotter slowly reveal the band’s influences, but the album’s cohesion will evoke for some an inherent Canadian-ness, where there is little distinction between the complexity of nature and the artistic impulse.
For this reason, it’s difficult to impose labels upon it such as “folk-rock” or “Americana.” Opening track “The Truth Don’t Look The Same To Me And You,” churns as if the music itself is struggling to decifer the existential puzzle posed by the title. It’s followed by “Duets,” featuring Dubois and Allen sharing lead vocals, which in many ways is the album’s most gorgeously straightforward track, a woozy country waltz probably best heard at 2 a.m.
The inventively restrained soul of “A Ghost In My Own Skin” and “I’m Going to Sleep” may remind some of Bahamas (who happens to hail from the same neck of the woods), but these tracks stand on their own as clever twists on time-tested themes. Taking that notion in an entirely different direction is the reverb-drenched “Back At The Boneyard,” which hearkens back to the Paisley Underground era, when folk and psychedelia were finally able to co-exist.
For all of its sonic diversity though, Stonetrotter cannot stifle its rock and roll heart. “Men Who Hide Their Tears” glides effortlessly on a J.J. Cale-like groove, although “Born Stiff” is the album’s electric centerpiece, a pulsating slab of street poetry that showcases Allen’s best qualities as a front man, as he simultaneously conveys toughness and vulnerability.
That contradiction, once fully exposed, is ultimately what makes Stonetrotter, both the album and the band, so compelling. There are plenty of incredible singer/songwriters in the world right now, but these are five distinct personalities working together to achieve the same goal: transcending the narrow restrictions of pop, country and “alternative rock.” There is little doubt on this debut, Stonetrotter has done just that.