Victoria, British Columbia… the New Omaha, Nebraska?
There’s a problem with “location” compilations: They tend to regulate artists to a specific region, which is confining and not the best definition of the featured performers. Certainly, if they’re all a part of one label and sound (see: Saddle Creek or Asthmatic Kitty compilations), then it’s not as much of an issue. Yet, if you’re focused on the musicians of one singular area (like 2004’s Death By Salt compilation, featuring the hard rock and LDS-pop acts of Salt Lake City rubbing next to each other), the clashing sounds don’t always seem to fit well on a CD, despite the fact that you at least walk away with an appreciation of that particular geographic region.
In steps Self Righteous Records and its Cavalcade of the Scars compilation, featuring a selection of artists from Victoria, British Columbia. Canada has long been a musical giant in the States, giving us the likes of Alanis Morissette, Barenaked Ladies, the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and many other bands that have secured their places in rock history. Sadly, this is also the same country that shoved Celine Dion and Bryan Adams down our throats, so all must be taken with a grain of salt. The opening trilogy of tracks on Cavalcade keep it fairly low-key, with the gypsy stylings of MeatDraw being both interesting and annoying, while the sky-soaring falsetto of Chet on “Your Element” is something to behold. The first real highlight is actually the acoustic sing-along of Dante Decaro (Hot Hot Heat, Wolf Parade), a joyful clap-along ditty where the fact that it sounds like it was recorded live from his basement only adds to the intrigue.
The strongest aspect of Cavalcade of the Scars is one element that many CD compilers tend to leave by the wayside: song order. Here, the flow of the album is impeccable (even if the songs are not), allowing us to travel from largely-forgettable ballads to the ridiculous and funny quirk of Hank Pine & Lily Fawn’s electro-shrine to “David Hasselhoff”. The momentum does seem to fall a bit in the second half, as songs by David P. Smith and the Lonesome Valley Singers simply fail to impress, and ending on the we-think-we’re-heavy-but-we’re-not rock of “Dead Birds” by the Dirty is nothing but a disappointing finale. Certainly, one can still hand out arbitrary awards like Best Band Name (The Switchblade Valentines) or Best Song Title (“Raise the Flag That’s Awesome” by Pequod), but one can’t help but feel that the album is not as much a musical portrait of Victoria as it is just throwing a bunch of artists together that seem to live near each other.
Though you aren’t likely to emerge from this disc enlightened by the plight or artistic achievements of the common folk of British Columbia, there are two songs in particular that will stay with you, both (oddly enough) fundamentally devoted to different styles of American music. Tim Holland’s “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” is a true, genuine blues song. His guitar playing is precise, dark, and atmospheric; his voice equally evocative. Ranking up there is Clay George’s appropriately-titled “Victoria”, a copy-and-paste country-western song if there ever was one, but enlivened by George’s personal lyrics and emotional delivery. Yet, the real tragedy is the fact that you’ll likely never hear of any of these artists again, as nothing here is exactly jumping out of your speakers and strangling your throat for attention; a true “regional sound” fails to develop and the compilation you have is just that, a compilation.
However, one can safely say that every song on this album is better than Bryan Adams. It is worth hearing for that reason alone.