The StarPhoenix – A walk on the dark side with Jon Brooks

“The smiling and beautiful countryside,” Sherlock Holmes once told Watson, presents as easily a “dreadful record of sin” as do “the lowest and vilest alleys in London.” Just check out those quaint British mysteries on PBS for confirmation. 

In this brilliant and unsettling album, Ontario songwriter Jon Brooks often takes the voice of the killer, the predator, the lonely, alienated loser in spare songs of one guitar and a bit of percussion. Gun Dealer is the man who provides us with what we want – our fear, our anger, our hatred driving us straight to his door, while in People Don’t Think of Others and Laws of the Universe we hear that the world is a tough and lonely place and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. 

Highway 16 is from the point of view of a trucker picking up lost young women on the Trail of Tears and killing them – they hitchhike “to a place without elders/only Justin Bieber,” providing him with easy prey. And in The Only Good Thing is an Old Dog, the voice is that of a homicidal maniac meticulously working his way through his former place of employment, killing everyone he sees. Who or what made him? 

In the title poem, printed in the CD cover, Brooks appeals to such songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Buffy St. Marie and Woody Guthrie, saying art is not all about reassuring people that what they’re doing is good and right. That’s not art – that’s a lie. And just for good measure, he gives us a minute-and-ahalf song These Are Not Economic Hard Times. No, not recession. “These are the days/After the days/When we were robbed.” Get it? 

The Mandevilles 

Windows and Stones MDM Recordings 4 

When Serena Pryne comes roaring out of the speakers to kick into syncopated stomper Hangovers, you’d think you were listening to a great wake-up song from a bunch of hard rockers, The Mandevilles from Niagara Falls. 

Track two brings the classic image of a pair of young runaways leaving this whole scene, and the wonderful I Stole Your Band is Pryne declaring just what she did in a great bit of thrash because “you broke my heart.” 

But then things take a curious turn. The plaintive guitar and vocal of Don’t Ask sound far more country than rock, except for the slamming beat. Come Around has a real country beat as Pryne sings about it being hard to tell “which side of the bed you’re on.” In Don’t Let Go she sings she was “Too drunk to shut my mouth this time,” another hurtin’ song about love, and Love is Like a Stranger is great hard rocking country. 

By One Man Band, with its banjo and fiddle and more pain of an old relationship, the jig is up and on the floor. But who cares? Rock and country came from the same place, anyway. The Mandevilles marry hard rock to country, and no one goes away sad. 

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix 

February, 2015