Philip Rambow – Canadiana

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins

Canadiana, the title gives a massive clue, as a bewildering nearly 50 years into a twisting career Canadian Philip Rambow delivers an album of his own take on the broad church that is Americana.  The cover is a group period photo with Rambow as a child playing a guitar, the contents are a stripped back distilation of spot on songs and observations.

“American Buffalo” is a new wave take on a weary county song flavoured by CJ Hillman’s aching pedal steel.  The star of that first track is the tension between Philip and Sharlene Hector’s, very different but perfectly twined vocal. “Things Are Not Looking Good” is a rude,  humorous look at life, there is an infectious energy and a lightness of touch, it feels spontaneous and full of life.  “Out On Your Own” is a, wonderful call and response duet with Sharlene Hector from Basement Jaxx.  The arrangement is paired back and distilled down to an essential essence. The guitar sound and voices have a classic fifties or sixties feel, but it’s timeless and eternal like a Willie Nelson ballad rather than retro.  “Get Even” arranged for guitar and dobro and some snappy finger clicks just swings with folk blues tension.  The sense of timing is impeccable.  “Springtime In My Heart” and “Piggin Out” have a touch of that louche Leon Redbone or Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band sparkle.  The tongue is firmly in the cheek as Philip gently pokes fun at contemporary trimmings from a 1950s TV advert idyll.  Similar is “Making Up For Lost Time”, its offbeat backing vocals are Pythonesque surreal, like one of those moments in a Dennis Potter TV show where live action synchs with a upbeat wartime crooned ditty.  “Oceans Apart” is a breath-taking vehicle for the wonderfully sultry vocals of Sharlene Hector, with both vocalists drenched in period organ and crooning backing vocals.  Once again the sense of economy gives the track sophistication, nothing is overdone or overblown.  “Angel Everyday” is a swirling masterpiece there is a touch of fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois in the layered sound and Rambow’s end of line vocal inflections.  It’s calming and soothing after the taught new wave feel of the rest if the album.  “Devoted To You” with its classic guitar riff and string bass is a, postcard from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the music is decidedly otherworldly and contrasts Philip’s honest and straight ahead vocal delivery.

This is a surprising album, a lively blend of Country, Rock and Noir tension.  It is informed by geography and music, Philip clearly hasn’t spent half a century in a cave, but it is also unique and interesting enough in its own right, as much Rambowania as Canadiana.  Choosing one track as a highlight was difficult, you are going to have to listen to the whole thing.