OK, first, a history lesson. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a man by the name of Ronnie Hawkins who hailed from Arkansas but was setting up shop in Toronto. The Hawk had a very interesting method of making certain he was on top of the local scene. When another band would come up and start making waves, cutting into ol’ Ronnie’s market share, Ronnie would simply hire their best player into his band, improving his and eliminating competition.
Through the years he put together the amazing band Ronnie & The Hawks. Eventually, the Hawks left the nest, and put their drummer on vocals, becoming Levon & The Hawks. They did ok on their own, and were asked to be the supporting band behind a young folk artist making waves by the name of Bob Dylan. Styles and sounds evolved and lo and behold, we had The Band.
In my first impressions of Heaven’s Jail Band, I thought, “Why, this sounds as if Ronnie Hawkins were fronting The Band…” before I realized what I was saying. In short- Heaven’s Jail Band has a sound and feel to them that is at once classic and familiar; yet unpredictable and wild. Francesco Ferorelli’s vocals are a charming mix of dark moody Euro and potent melodic rock edge that rounds out an already impressive musical blend.
HJB is another one of those bands where the influences are varied and eclectic, and is obviously the result of great musicians having fun and doing what comes natural. As an example, in the song “Sleep Outside” has a distinct bluesy shuffle feel that flirts with outlaw country, and contains gorgeous lyrical images such as “Hold me through the shaking / Take away my Sin / Tell Me a Story / I don’t care where it begins / Please wrap me up in Rattlesnakes, cause I’ve got the appetite / and make me sleep outside tonight.”
Other stand-out tracks on this collection include a brilliant take on a country road-traveling song called “Fool Enough” that is, in its simplicity, perfection. “Speak Lovely Chaos” is another example of minimalist layers creating an absolute ocean of gorgeous soul churning groove rock.
As a whole, Angelmaker flows well, and is a wonderful project from start to finish. I can’t wait to throw this on in the truck next time I’m driving to some distant town through the mountains. If you have an ear for a solid country/folk/rock sound, or just want to experience collaboration done right, this is a great addition to your collection, friends. Enjoy!
Nearly fifteen years ago the movie Dark City was released. The neo-noir cult classic dealt with a seemingly happy world, one where everyone believed their memories and thoughts to be their own, but on the backside of life there was actually a much darker power in play. In the most basic concept, this would be another “everything is not as it seems” plot, but when played out just right, it becomes incredibly complex to attempt such a bland analogy.
New York’s Heaven’s Jail Band is superficially a happy world, but don’t be fooled, those memories aren’t your own, there is a much darker power at play; and it is executed with superb precision.
Angelmaker paints a picture of a lamenting southern soul, but the bristles on the paintbrush are used needles held together with blood coated barbed wire. Looking at the picture, you won’t see this, but if you step back, you’ll find a macabre world hidden in the unseen. But most importantly, don’t shy away from the fact that this is the world we are living in.
Now don’t think you’re diving into some morbidly repulsive album or even one you should avoid at all costs. As a matter of fact, I am absolutely in love with Angelmaker. It is a thinker’s album. Similar to a Cohen or Kerouac of each generation, Heaven’s Jail Band isn’t pretty, but it spins tales deeply rooted in reality; often a reality most choose to ignore.
Their music has a façade of Southern Rock while their lyrics are bold enough to stand on their own two feet. Admittedly, front-man Francesco’s voice is hardly in the realm of anything remotely epic. If it were, this sound would fail miserably. His vocals feel limited, but in their haunting glory annunciate Heaven’s sound with a fantastic grace. Tracks like “I Know My Rights” and “Untitled,” in their slower melodies, dance against the faster paced “Daddy’s Blues” and “How Sweet It Is,” reiterating the heavier power pulling the strings on this world.
There is a moment on Angelmaker where Heaven’s Jail Band connects in a way that sold me from the very first listen. Tracks three and four, “Trees Like Trees” and “Sleep Outside.” “Trees” begins with the vivid lyrics “My footsteps on the gravel/sound like/crunching little skulls,” dances on a slightly cynical romanticism, then transitions into “Sleep Outside” without missing a beat. “Sleep” is a song I have played over and over and over again, and I’ll be honest, I can’t see it getting old. The stomping saunter beat lingering on the moaning guitar are engrained in my mind and I keep coming back for more.
Heaven’s Jail Band has made Angelmaker a beautifully dark, well planned, highly intelligent ride to remember. It is light enough to convince the passer-by and heavy enough to have you digging through meaning. Their ability to convey such a seemingly folk/rock sound yet keep an edge feeds the complexity and keeps it from becoming simply “everything is not as it seems.” Get it, you’ll like it. Get it on vinyl, you’ll love it.