If you’re one of the people that still subscribes to the “rock ‘n’ roll is dead” mantra, Malcolm Bauld would like to have a word with you.
In fact, if possible, he’d like to have 35 minutes and 38 seconds' worth of words with you.
Or, if you’d feel more comfortable just cutting the middle man out of the picture completely, one listen through of Bauld’s Covered In Dust will have you believing that though it’s changed forms substantially since Bill Haley & the Comets first rocked around the clock, the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in 2008.
The rollicking “Charity” opens Bauld’s debut album with a fiery acoustic salvo that perfectly suits the deep baritone he brings to the table. Bauld’s voice rises and falls with every chord progression, peaking perfectly in time with the chorus ("Close your door, and wrap your weary arms around my neck / We can’t know what it means, we’ll call it charity"). The Montreal-based singer-songwriter slows it up a bit after “Charity,” as the title track “Covered in Dust” is a somber affair -- but a somber affair showing the light at the end of the tunnel.
When Bauld laments "without a god, without a plan, they took what I needed right out of my hands / It’s the same old terrain I’ve always trudged through" above some delicate strumming, it feels genuine. And when his voice rises as he proclaims "they won’t steal the light from my eyes," you know that it’s true.
From there, Covered In Dust carems back and forth between downtrodden folk and upbeat rock. While comfortable in either style, it’s the former that suits Bauld best. It’s that low-key, earnest music perfectly suited for the American heartland that provides the album’s best moments.
Combining brilliantly simple acoustic strumming and tactful piano, “Every Time I Read the Words” is a showcase for Bauld’s deep, comforting delivery and impressive melody. Without having to do much at all, he delivers a plaintive and engaging narrative that holds up each and every time. The sorrow is real. The longing is real, and without either coming across as contrived, the former Frenetics member effortlessly tells the tale: "Drifting I move slow, my eyes pour row from row / And wait and wait until the next one, don’t take too long to write / I curse the fading light, it’s hell, I wish you were here / Try all night, for drowning tired eyes, guided by smoke and black handwriting / […] / All the years still add up, and all the hairs still stand up, every time I read the words."
The undeniable feeling that human spirit and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll are both -- albeit in a tangled way -- present in every single word, make this one of the most powerful and most thought-provoking records to come out this year.