Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
Not unlike Zeus did with their breakout EP in 2009, the members of New Country Rehab are stepping out from their primary roles as sidemen—for the likes of Basia Bulat, Amy Millan, and Justin Rutledge—to create a stellar debut album.
The self-titled, self-released effort, out today, is a collection of impressive originals and inventive covers. What’s immediately surprising is the delicacy; even with the deep pool of technical talent here, the focus seems to be on maintaining a mood over all else. The restraint of opening track “Angel of Death,” a song that wastes no time delving into traditional roots music’s age-old grappling with redemption, is enough to just hold it back from being a Blue Rodeo radio hit, the low rhythm guitar and frontman John Showman’s classic country voice instead puling you in for a closer look. The reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” (streaming to the right) starts out sounding almost as brooding as the original but succumbs to the intensity in a way the Boss’ didn’t, though New Country Rehab sound no weaker for it.
The other covers on the record—songs by Hank Williams Sr. and some reworking of traditional Appalachian arrangements—are as important to the band’s storytelling as original tracks like “Bury Me” (which is where the band seems to most tightly embrace the “New Country” part of their name) and “Cameo,” the latter of which is a true standout. New Country Rehab are refreshingly traditional yet smartly topical, and there’s no doubt that the reach this record finds will reflect that.