Hailing from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Rain Over St. Ambrose are a young rock and roll band who do just about everything right on their full-length debut album, Truth For News. The band, Cory LeBlanc (guitar/vocals), Marc Durkee (bass/vocals), Curt Le Blanc (guitar), Luke Amirault (drums), Matt Amirault (keys), rip through eleven invigorating rock songs that never cease to hit their marks squarely.
The Le Blancs’ guitars tear through the speakers with abandon and drop thrilling solos without ever overpowering a song. Durkee and Amirault’s rhythm section is a vigorous beast with power befitting of frontman Cory Le Blanc’s mighty, evocative howl, and the interplay of Matt Amirault’s keys bounce off winning incorporations of saxophone, stomps, handclaps and piano (and even a fully-fledged choir on album centerpiece “Chemtrails of Happiness”). The production, by Cory Le Blanc and Josh “Pinky” Pothier, is an understated thing of beauty, wrangling propulsive, straight-ahead rock and roll songs and adorning them with gargantuan sing-along choruses (think The Hold Steady) befitting of your favorite unsung regional bar band deserving of a wide audience.
On Truth For News, the Yarmouth five-piece are relentless underdog heroes who serve up galvanizing swells of fist-pumping choruses full of ethos and deliver them with blistering fervor and boundless heart. Rain Over St. Ambrose are the very sort of band who could’ve escaped the limits of regional acclaim in a different age of FM popularity (say Minneapolis in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s), but, unfortunately, it may take near-miraculous fortune for a band this good to pull off such a coup in current times.
What distinguishes Rain Over St. Ambrose most on their debut album is the caliber of the songwriting, and a wealth of that acclaim has to rest with Cory Le Blanc. With a rousing band at his side, Le Blanc maximizes on the potential of his commanding, guttural howl and lyrics that strike like sharpened daggers. Le Blanc has no shortage of things to say on Truth for News, and the band’s chosen vehicle for his power is in classic verse-chorus-verse structure with urgent calls for crowd engagement. Though Rain Over St. Ambrose is primed for fans of The Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus (not to mention The Hold Steady, The Replacements, and fellow Canadians Constantines), Le Blanc’s songwriting approach is more in-step with Brian Fallon’s rousing garage gems of the former than of Patrick Stickles’ rabidly virtuoso lyrical blitzkriegs that are the unmistakable DNA of Titus Andronicus’ anthems.
Rather than pummeling the lyric sheet with a proliferation piss and vinegar diatribes, Le Blanc fashions the songs into heat-seeking missiles that build up to singular lines or questions that read more like populist bumper stickers and achieve hard-hitting results on repeat listening. On opener “The Debate,” he rides the wave of guitars and a rollicking tempo to light the fuse in verses like, “He could never win (That’s what they think to say) / Ignorance will only bring us down,” before the song detonates with the brilliant chorus query of, “This is the information age / Why are you not informed?”
The rhythm section of Luke Amirault and Durkee heroically anchor “Headstone Light” behind the gusto of guitars, keys and sax, while Le Blanc sings the thoughtful verse, “I took the long way home last night just to see if your light was still fastened to your headstone,” before howling “No soundcheck tonight!” They cap it off with a giant “oh why oh why oh” harmony and Le Blanc singing, “You’ve got a microphone in your pocket / You can sing your songs to me.” Rain Over St. Ambrose serve up a complementing winner with “Walking Home,” a song that capitalizes on the structure of “Headstone Light” with Le Blanc singing “Looks like we’re walking home,” but it’s the judicious use of thrilling solos, keys, and an infectious “do do do wah do” hook that sends the song to towering heights.
“Your Audience” is arguably the strongest song on an album comprised of front-to-back winners. Le Blanc bellows, “How long can you run front me?” while the band somberly harmonizes behind him. Then, the five-piece tear into the formidable rocker with Le Blanc’s black-tongued wit and fury that lands haymakers on a scene of hipsters too cool for the old-school. He sings, “With your cool shoes, glasses, and hair / So you call yourself a raver, must be raving over something / …I don’t think my eyes can bear / To look at you,” before dismantling that audience with the deliciously bitter chorus, “Woah! Please wait for me / You people are so goddamned cool / Wanna be there when you fall.” The second verse is perhaps Le Blanc’s best lyric on the album (or at least this reviewer’s favorite, especially matched to the chorus) with him singing, “So you listen to Bob Dylan / You own a couple posters / But you don’t like The Band or their style /…You fancy yourself indie, but your money won’t make up for time / And your tattoos won’t cover your crime/… You people are so goddamned cool / Wanna be there when you fall!”
What Le Blanc sings with righteous ire on “Your Audience,” he converts to equally heartfelt and thrilling, but more introspective, beauty on the exquisite “Parade.” The song opens with a lyric depicting the band’s namesake (“I made a call and asked you to sit down / You drove all night even though there was rain over St. Ambrose.”), and it builds to the triumphantly poignant chorus, “Oh, my mother does dance / And my daddy rock and rolled / I wish that I could see him one time,” complete with a barrage of “body percussion” and an eleven-strong sing-along of, “The parade began even though there was rain over St. Ambrose.”
Rain Over St. Ambrose never ease up on the gas, and they don’t miss a beat the rest of the way. “Chemtrails of Happiness” soars with the full choir flanking Le Blanc’s vocals while harmonizing “ba da ba da.” A highway-ready blues guitar lick sets off “DG Gold Paint” before lyrics like “used to tell us the Lord was in all our hearts / Don’t let the rain wet down the gold paint” carry the torch. On “An Night with Friends,” Le Blanc sings, “Yes, I’m the stubborn one / I’ll die before my day / I’m never wrong, I’ll never change/ Cause I can sleep the whole damn day / Go out at night, get high with friends.” “Tambourine” opens with the titular instrument until the whole band kicks and the guitars assault, while the instrumental “Good Father (Part 1)” and the follow-up closer “Good Father (Part 2)” delightfully call to mind the underrated Arts & Crafts (via Three Gut Records and Sub Pop) Ontario rockers Constantines. On the latter track, Le Blanc offers up his mightiest roar on the album to sing, “Hey, sweet mother / Cry for my father / Keep the grave lights on so he’ll never be alone!”
The closing chorus on Truth for News finds Rain Over St. Ambrose howling, “We still got a long way to go!” It’s a fitting statement from a young band ripping out the gates with a damn fine collection of songs. Give these excellent, young Nova Scotians a valid listen if you’re a fiend for straight-ahead rock and roll with a burning heart. Something tells me Rain Over St. Ambrose will keep writing songs of this caliber and continue playing them with restless passion whether ten people or a thousand are listening, but tunes like these truly succeed when they’re played in the midst of a crowd. Let’s hope a band as deserving as these guys wins such a following.
Truth For News is out now via Acadian Embassy. Get it from www.rainoverstambrose.bandcamp.com.
Rain Over St. Ambrose – “Walking Home”
Rain Over St. Ambrose – Truth for News Tracklist
6.Chemtrails Of Happiness
7.DG Gold Paint
8.At Night With Friends
10.Good Father (Part 1)
11.Good Father (Part 2)
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