Canada’s alt-country band Grievous Angels are set to release their eighth album, The Summer Before The Storm. Ironically the recording sessions for this album were completed in the summer of 2019, just before the pandemic and the political fire storm that was the American election.
Grievous Angels have been a staple on the Canadian music scene since the mid 1980s playing everything from small bars to folk festivals. (Full disclosure – a very early version of the band rehearsed in the basement of a house I lived in) However, due to the fact they are one of the few bands in the world with a sitting member of parliament as a front person (Charlie Angus has been the MP for the Timmons/James Bay ridding in Northern Ontario since 2004) they have had repeated hiatuses and this is their first release since 2013.
Well as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait and The Summer Before The Storm is a triumphant return for Grievous Angels. While the ten songs on the album cover a variety of subjects, everything from a soldier with PTSD to the mourning of a lost relationship, musically it has an authenticity and honesty you don’t hear enough of anymore.
Too much of what is supposedly country music has descended into cliche both musically and lyrically. Listening to a Grievous Angels’ song helps you remember that Woody Guthrie was a country singer and that it can be a forum for addressing the real concerns of real people, not just about pickup trucks doing you wrong.
The album kicks off with the cajun influenced country rock song “The Morning After”. Life affirming, the song speaks of renewal and hope for better days: “On the morning after the sun broke through the dark black shroud/And the birds started singing as if there’d never been a doubt/And we stood there in silence cause words seemed so out of place/And on the morning after there rose a brand new day”.
While this is a song of hope, Grievous Angels aren’t shy when it comes to singing about the pain in the world. The second song on the recording, “All Night Depanneur” (depanneur is the word for corner store in Quebec) is one of the most moving, and accurate songs I’ve heard dealing with someone suffering the effects of PTSD. In this case a veteran who had served in Bosnia with Canadian Peace Keepers.
As befits a song set in Canada’s French speaking province it has echoes of Quebec folk music. The sound, complete with a plaintive accordion and haunting mandolin, brings the pain of the lyrics to life. “When I see the snow, I see Sarajevo and that village burning by the road/When I see the snow, and all the things I know that I just can’t put aside no more”.
The album closes with the title track, “The Summer Before The Storm”, a wonderful, evocative and moving song that somehow foreshadows the troubling year we were about to head into. Obviously, unless Angus has some prophetic powers he’s been keeping hidden, the band had no way of knowing what exactly was coming. However, the world has been heading for a tipping point for a number of years, and this song articulates this in a way few others have been able to. Not just lyrically, but musically as well.
Lead vocalist Angus has the type of voice which speaks directly to you. Like Cash, Guthrie and a few others, its qualities leaves you in no doubt as to the singer’s integrity. You know he’s not just mouthing glib phrases, but articulating thoughts and ideas close to his heart.
The Summer Before The Storm is one of those rare albums which can make you think and feel without sacrificing anything musically. While Grievous Angels have a uniquely Canadian sound they sing about themes everyone can relate to. They have genuinely created an album for our times.