(Reincarnate Music, CD)
Nova Scotia-based songwriter Matt Mays is running down an Americana dream. He and his band El Torpedo recently released a self-titled CD in the vein of early Tom Petty and Mays' Canadian contemporary Sam Roberts. Each of the disc's 13 songs is comfortably familiar, if somewhat unadventurous.
Well on his way to stardom in his own country, Mays has yet to make a dent in America. Give him time. With songs like these, he'll no doubt find his niche among No Depression readers looking for the next denim hero.
As a vocalist, Mays borrows heavily from the California country-rock sound of the late '60s and early '70s. The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP is an obvious influence, as it no doubt was on Petty. But where the Laurel Canyon cowboys favored chiming axes and loose arrangements, Mays prefers rugged riffs and tight turnarounds.
Opener "Travellin'" is one part Rickenbacker jangle, two parts overdriven anthem. Subsequent track "Cocaine Cowgirl" strikes a curious balance between pop-rock puff and searing emotion. Picture Rick Springfield recast as a heartland rocker, and you're nearly there.
"Ain't So Heavy" attempts to capture romantic angst in a bottle. "Tryin' so hard to put the blue back into your sky," Mays sings with well-rehearsed weariness. Cresting guitars, driving drums and a fine female harmony in the chorus should make for a lovelorn classic. What's missing is the sense of anything real at stake.
The acoustic strum of "Lost Souls" could be straight from a Travelin' Wilburys album. Actually, Roy Orbison's rich croon would've sounded sweet on this delicately tattered tune.
"It Don't Matter" is another gem that appears further in. A fairly simple number, Mays no doubt could've been penned it in minutes. Still, the song's Stones-y axe work and tumbling percussion shows a rambunctious side of the band that deserves further exploration.
Closer "Wicked Come Winter" is a chugging ballad with a particularly affecting vocal performance by Mays. Spacious verses and a more creative arrangement make for my favorite tune on the album.
If you like mid-tempo, widescreen rock, Matt Mays & El Torpedo might be your new favorite record. At the very least, it'll sound nice between interstate off ramps. Hear the boys live when they open for Los Lobos at the Higher Ground Ballroom on Friday, November 17.