Thursday , May 23 2024
The Grievous Angels

Music Review: ‘Last Call For Cinderella’ – The Grievous Angels

Last Call for Cinderella

Last Call for Cinderella is the latest release from one of Canada’s best kept secrets, The Grievous Angels. Band leader, primary songwriter and lead vocalist Charlie Angus formed the band somewhere in the mid-1980s. While more country- and folk-oriented than the previous band he played in, the Toronto-based punk band L’Etranger, the agitprop/DIY spirit that infused punk has always been an integral part of the Angels’, and Angus’, personality.

In his introduction to “Me and Bobbi McGee” Kris Kristofferson famously said, “If it sounds country, well that’s what it is, a country song.” Well the same can be said for many of the songs on Last Call for Cinderella. However, this isn’t the slick stuff you hear on today’s country radio stations. Rather it’s as rough and ragged as the woods and the rock faces surrounding Angus’ Northern Ontario home. You won’t hear sentimental songs about pickup trucks or good times; instead you’ll listen to stories filled with the rough edges of real lives.

The Angels (Angus on lead vocals and guitar, Janet Mercier on vocals, Alexandra Bell on vocals/piano/tambourine, Peter Jellard on vocals/fiddle/accordion/guitar/harmonica/mandolin, Tim Hadley on bass, Ian McKendry on guitar and Nathan Mahaffy on vocals/drums) have musical roots that run deep and wide. Blues, doo-wop, country, folk, funk, soul and gospel converge in the album’s 10 tracks to create a stirring mix of songs of resistance, ballads, and the occasional plea to higher powers to intercede on our behalf.

“Litany of Saints,” a funky modern gospel number co-written by Jason Collette of Broken Social Scene, has been given new lyrics by Angus invoking a modern pantheon. Joe Hill and Joe Strummer appear alongside the more traditional icons of St. Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc. 

The mix of the incredibly secular Hill (who lampooned the promise of Heaven promoted by the Church with “work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die, that’s a lie”) and Strummer’s punk DIY ethos with the rest reminds us that in order to effect change we’re going to have to rely on more than divine intervention. Heck, the song even has Joan of Arc out marching in the streets – talk about rabble rousing!

Angus also looks to history for his lyrical inspiration. It’s no coincidence that two of the songs on Last Call for Cinderella, “Barcelona I’ll Be Free” and “Bells of Pontecorvo,” evoke the memory of the last wars fought against fascist oppressors. While the latter commemorates the bravery and sacrifice of Canadian soldiers who fought in Italy during WW ll, the former evokes the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s where the elected republican government was overthrown by Fransisco Franco, backed by both Italy and Germany.

The city of Barcelona, in the fiercely leftwing state of Catalonia, had been the epicentre of the left in Spain and home to the international troops of volunteers who poured into the country in an attempt to stave off Franco’s forces. While the republicans were eventually defeated, Barcelona remains a symbol of freedom for people to this day. 

The song, appropriately sung by Mercier and Bell, is from the point of view of a single woman struggling to survive in the current economic situation. While she’s beaten down by poor wages and abusive employers (“Greasy Brendon is the foreman and his hands they won’t stay still”), she still holds onto the hope the name Barcelona offers: “No pasaran, no pasaran, comrade give me your hand. Barcelona I’ll be free.”

From #MeToo, women striking for fair wages and better working conditions, to the Indigenous Land Defenders around the world, this song honours and celebrates the struggles of women to be treated as equals. In a time when governments everywhere have been rolling back women’s rights and access to health care, this is an important and beautiful song.

Of course The Grievous Angels aren’t just a political band. They also tell beautiful stories. Angus wrote “Close Your Eyes” for his late sister. It is a testament to his ability as a songwriter that he is able to make this a lovely song without it becoming sentimental or maudlin. It’s just a heartfelt commemoration of a life well lived. 

Then there’s “The Last Wedding Band,” which could be about any band across North America still eking out an existence playing cheap bars, weddings, and legions. Maybe they should have given it up years ago – no money, late nights on the road and a litany of lost loves, for audiences who don’t really care what they play – but they just can’t quite bring themselves to throw in the towel. 

Last Call for Cinderella from The Grievous Angels is a wonder. It’s amazing how one band can fit so much into 41 minutes. The couple dealing with coming to terms with their addictive behavior (“Friday Night,” which could have been written by John Prine), reflections of the city of Ottawa being occupied by extreme right wing white nationalists for two months during the pandemic (“This Is How The City Falls”), the cajun/Hank Williams-influenced francophone “J’ai Passe La Nuit” – all find a home under this one title.

Yet, every song seems to fit. Last Call for Cinderella is like wandering into the perfect kitchen party where the musicians are not only impeccable, but their material flows from one song and genre to the next seamlessly. This is a protest album for a modern world, but it’s also a gift from the hearts of seven incredibly talented musicians.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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