High Lonesome Sound
I’ll bet you $20 that you’ve never heard a Portishead cover done in quite the way that Beams does it. The septuplet, led by Anna Mernieks, is a folksy band that takes a stab at “Glory Box” and gives it a slinky groove that allows the song to nestle quite comfortably with the rest of the group’s original material on their debut full-length album, Just Rivers. So, yeah, you probably haven’t heard “Glory Box” done as a folk ballad. It’s an audacious move to be sure, but you could expect no less from a record produced by the legendary Peter J. Moore, the dude behind the Cowboy Junkies most famous album, The Trinity Sessions, and a guy who has also worked with the (alas) much more obscure Upper Ottawa Valley band the Fireweed Company (née Fireweed) on their 1994 record Drinking Man, which is quietly regarded as a stone-cold classic rock album in areas to the northwest of Ottawa, Canada. But I digress.
Just Rivers is very much in a kitchen-sink folk-rock kind of vein, which makes it surprising to learn that this band is out of Toronto and not the East Coast of Canada – indeed, with its sweet female lead vocals and buoyant harmonies, a lot of this sounds like an edgier Rankin Family. Banjos are prominent along with the high lonesome sound of a Theremin-like saw providing a ghostly howl. And, effectively, Just Rivers is a toe-tapping, pleasing record, although one that has a wholly consistent sound to a point where a lot of the songs just blur into each other. Additionally, “End of the Bar” has a line in the chorus that mentions how everyone at a particular pub is talking about “cheap cocaine”, which sounds odd considering that Mernieks, with her elven voice, sounds way too innocent to be singing about drug usage. Still, there’s enough great material on the disc to warrant a purchase, especially for those who lament Sufjan Stevens’ recent excursions into more electronic territory. In short, Just Rivers is a pretty glorious start, even if it is one that will mainly have you rethinking just how Portishead should sound.