The first clue to how good this band is, is the fact that they're now signed to the True North label; the second is that Northern Soul is 54-40's 13th studio release. These guys are unknown in the US but very respected in their homeland, Canada. Why they should be completely ignored here is enigmatic: they kick the shit out of Loverboy, Trooper, Chilliwack (and Henderson, MacLeod & Bryant Inc. put out a number of very good tunes!) and square quite nicely with the best of the UK acts, like U2, Mission UK, Cactus World News, and Horslips.
The promo lit describes 54-40 as "post-punk modern rock", but that's a bit of damnaton by faint praise, isn't it? These guys are waaaaay beyond punk, showing none of that lamentable genre's cardinal failings. Instead, Northern Soul is a brilliant fusion of pop and rock, catchy but not hook-driven, instead melodically whole song to song. Then you have cuts like One Hundred Songs projecting well beyond that, a fusion of roots, rock, progressive folk, trad, and orchestral, an entrancing song that keeps pulling the listener in further and further and further.
The quartet has been together two decades and it shows. Well attuned to each other, the lines of distinction from instrument to instrument and hand to hand begin to disappear, melding into a unit that writes, plays, and sings from one mind. Shade Grows illustrates that with breathtaking cohesion amid gorgeously haunting atmospherics. Listening to this band, one soon remembers that 54-40 hails from the country that gave us Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Cockburn. 54-40 has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath; now it only remains to be seen whether America and the rest of the world can get their noses out of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and other soul-less corporate rockers and back to real music made from heart and brain. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that but will be happy as hell to see it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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