Some folks, they tell me, 'You just can't play country, you're a stupid young punk and you're from Montreal...' But I'll still make you cry with that song."- "Sad Songs"
I first heard of Yesterday's Ring because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Montreal punk band the Sainte Catherines. In 2006, the Sainte Catherines released Dancing for Decadence through Fat Wreck Chords -- punks from Montreal kicking absolute ass, and it got them some well-deserved exposure. So when I started looking into their history, I found that most the band members had also founded a band that was country-influenced: Yesterday's Ring. The fact that I knew Yesterday's Ring's background made it all the more real to listen to. They were punks playing country, and that's what it sounded like. And they did it damn well.
On their latest album, Diamonds in the Ditch, Yesterday's Ring go autobiographical...sort of. The album is about a punk band from Montreal that moves to Florida, tired of cold winters -- ready for anything. When they get there, they instead start drug habits and find that the life they idealized is quite a deceiving affair. Finally, they decide to pack it all up to go back home, and find that everything they've been looking for was there all along.
Now, if this were any other band, you might say in some ways, "I've heard that story before." But given that most of this draws from personal experience (they didn't actually move to Florida, but the rest is accurate), and that the story is such a raw tale in itself, it just grabs ahold of you and you don't want to stop until the album ends. Put it this way: Imagine Bruce Springsteen on Born to Run really does leave for The Promised Land, but ditches his girl and starts a coke habit in the process. Bruce then gets tired of it all (and of all that dancing in the dark), and decides to go back to New Jersey to make it all work out with his beloved Mary and clean himself up. Once that's done, he writes a badass record about the wild, the innocent and the glory days.
Vocalist Hugo Mudie doesn't sugarcoat or overly dramatize what he sings about. It all seems real -- harsh ("You'll break my neck and punch my friends / I'll fuck your girl and write about it in my blog") or sweet ("My baby will never leave me / 'Cause she just knows my love is true / Stay right here in my arms forever / Everything feels so much better now") as the lyrics may get. His singing has a charm to it in the sense that he really does sound like someone who wore out his voice while he was in a punk band, now trying to get his vocal chords to chill out for a bit, and it works in his favor 100%. Musically, you can throw in some Pogues, some Townes Van Zandt, some Ennio Morricone (kudos here goes to great trumpet work by Keith Douglas of the Mad Caddies, and fantastic keyboard touches by another superb Montreal songwriter, Malcolm Bauld), even some Sainte Catherines, and you may have a bit of an idea of what it sounds like. The point here is not to name the sum of its parts, because first of all, there are too many parts to name; second, this band has a sound of its own that goes beyond whatever combination of musicians you can throw at them. They proudly wear â??em on their sleeve, with plenty of references to go by (the song title "They Oughta Name a Drink After Me" is a tip of the hat to the classic John Prine song "Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You," and on "What Happens on the Road Stays in the Van," they talk of experiences with Spider from the Pogues and Fat Mike from NOFX, amongst other things).
This is such a fun album to listen to, from uptempo country songs to ballads, punk and even pop, it's all there. It's not only just a great album, but it's entertaining as hell. I can proudly say that I've found a country band that makes me head-bang on the bus on my way to work, and on nights where you've had a bit too much to drink, guarantee it'll make you sing out loud on your way back home. It's the kind of band you listen to that you wish everyone knew about, except, well, it's kind of cool to keep it to yourself at the same time, like a really good secret you don't really know what to do with. I give this album 4 1/2 stars because I have listened to it enough to determine that yes, indeed, it deserves it -- this is not a two-week binge on the same album; this is one that, if you like it at first, will only get better and will stay with you. A 5-star review in my opinion should not be given to a new album -- it takes years to earn (we're talking about a classic rating here!), but believe me when I say that a few years from now I see myself enjoying this album just as much.
One of the best albums of the year so far.
P.S.: If you have the chance, see them live -- they put on a terrific show, and have some of the coolest merch items I've ever seen (they have their own Cajun hot sauce! How many bands' merch items can you say literally have made you cry?! Sometimes they even have a tattooist on site). Oh, and if you really wanna listen to this album right, get it on vinyl -- it has a bonus track which serves as the album's introduction -- and even though it's just over a minute, makes all the difference (you'll understand when you get to the last song).