It’s a cold, hard fact that there is some truly amazing music coming out of the East Coast. The boys of Pretty Archie, a band from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, certainly measure up to their notable Maritime contemporaries. Last year I had the privilege of meeting the band and seeing them play at NXNE. At the time they were revving up to record their sophomore album, a follow up to 2013’s Steel City (which was nominated for Music Nova Scotia’s bluegrass/country album of the year). They were great then, but with this new album, North End Sky, they have matured a surprising amount for such little time. The album is fun and energetic like their live shows, but it is also wrapped in warmth and yields a depth that is often reserved for more seasoned acts.
North End Sky shows a development from Steel City’s mainly folk and bluegrass shades to include other colours that lean in the direction of alt-country. The colours come from their use of banjo, harmonica and mandolin; as well as the usual acoustic guitar, bass and drums; but also from the electric guitar parts that beef up many of the songs on the album. The vocal prowess of lead singer Brian Cathcart is emboldened by the layered harmonies provided by the other band members. Jamie Foulds, audio engineer extraordinaire from Soundpark Studios, did a fine job of making the album sound polished. Yes; there is a lot of really beautiful stuff going on.
Many of the tracks are jolly-good foot-stompers, but they are complimented by the few more relaxed tunes like “The Flood,” a vocally intense song that’s somehow haunting and powerful at the same time. Another tune that stands out is “Devil Take Me Down,” which features some of musically the most interesting works as well as one of the strongest vocal deliveries on the album. After a moderately-paced beginning, it morphs into a driving, mighty middle section before pulling back at the tail end again. It’s very effective.
Pretty Archie have taken strides forward with this collection of songs that range from good old-fashioned drinkin’ tunes to their more sentimental numbers. Here is a video from “Hardwood Floor,” one of the slower tunes on the album.
Their music can be purchased on iTunes (link on their website).