Buddy Black and the Ghost Umbrellas: The Story on the Road to Waterloo EP
This is a Canadian folk-rock concept short album about two young vampire lovers who seek to become human again, combining the styles of Spirit of the West with the ambitious sprawl of Titus Andronicus.
Buddy Black and the Ghost Umbrellas is a Toronto band with a penchant for the ambitious, even when they’re releasing EPs. Their latest, The Story On the Road to Waterloo EP, originally was a screenplay but was reworked into song. It’s a punk/folk opera about two young vampire lovers desperate to become human again and seek out a cure for their condition. Musically, if you took the folk rock of fellow Canadians Spirit of the West and grafted it with the indie ambition of Titus Andronicus, you would have Buddy Black (real name: Neil Mackay) et al. While it’s a bit difficult to parse the story that is being told here, the music is certainly enjoyable enough in a pub-crawl kind of way. Black has a rather unexceptional voice – you want it to either be gruffer or more nasally to suit the material better – but, you have to admit, he rather grows on you the more you listen to this EP. And you can’t deny the band’s ambition. Worth noting, too, is that the group is going the Radiohead route: you can download the album from the band’s Bandcamp page for a “pay what you want” price, meaning it’s free if you want it to be. (Though, be nice, and toss a few bucks at these guys.)
The five original songs that make up this EP are actually not too shabby in a folk-rock way, with more emphasis on the rock end of the spectrum. The sixth track is a cover of the country-folk standard “Can the Circle Be Unbroken?”, which, alas, is the EP’s weak link. The song is so revered that you have to do an impressionable job of covering it, but the song feels too laid back here, and Black’s vocals warble at best. So it’s something of a misfire. However, the originals are competent, especially the centrepiece song and single “You Need to Know”. It’s a country-folk strum that floats and makes a mark. In the end, The Story On the Road to Waterloo EP is worth hearing and it does have a tendency to creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s resolutely Canadian in sound, and it offers a few musical quirks and twists, and being something of a concept album, a rarity in Canadian music circles outside of, say, Rush. Peruse this if Black's brand of music interests you. You never know: you might be bitten and smitten by those vampire lovers that Black and company sing about.