Full disclosure: I was the copyeditor for the cover art of Soon This Will All Be Gone, but I had no involvement with the music; indeed, I haven’t even met the band in person.
I went to see catl with a friend of mine a little over a year ago. I had just heard With the Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place, and events had arranged themselves so that they were doing a show at the Horseshoe at a time when I actually had the money to go. We sat through a couple of warm-up acts, one band so forgettable I can’t even remember what kind of music they played, and another a slightly better than average dad-rock band, the sort of unit you expect Jim Belushi to front on his off days. Our conversation was not interrupted.
And then it was catl’s turn.
I’ve been to some pretty epic live shows, from big stadium acts like the Rolling Stones, to tiny indie bands that tore up the joint but never managed to put out an album. I once reckoned that the best show I’d ever been to, as hard as it might be to believe, was Econoline Crush on the B-stage at Edgefest ’97 in Winnipeg. They were a mediocre studio band at best, but their live act was a thing unto itself, alive, and a little bit on fire. I got kicked in the face twice during their set, and was nearly concussed as crowd-surfing filmmaker (and old friend) Karl Richter slammed into the back of my head. It was a throbbing mass of flesh and blood and noise. It was glorious, and far and away the best thing I’d ever seen on stage. Until I saw catl.
I didn’t know it was possible to fill a space with that much sound, especially not from such tiny amps on such a tiny stage. It was like a fluid, swirling up from below, getting not just in your ears, but in your eyes and mouth and nose and down into your lungs, getting at your soul through capillaries as yet undiscovered by science.
Jamie Fleming was sitting up there with his guitar, rocking back and forth and nodding along with the rhythm, as righteous a shouter as any Toronto has ever produced. When my friend saw Sarah K. shaking at the keys like some sexy rock ‘n’ roll faith healer, little smoky jets of light erupting like fireworks from her sequined dress, she turned to me and said, I want to BE her. Johnny LaRue was somewhere in the back, steady-rolling and inscrutable. It was raw and dangerous and beautiful.
So that’s their live show. What about this new album, Soon This Will All Be Gone?
The intro and outro (oh, how I miss the word “coda”) are scratchy, tinny covers of the great Furry Lewis and Lead Belly. They frame the album perfectly; they are irreverent and playful without being disrespectful, or worse, ironic.
The album opens properly with “Gold Tooth Shine,” which is the clear choice for a first single—well, they’ve released a video for it anyway; I don’t think they do traditional singles—because aside from being a crapload of fun, it has a strong connection to their last album, and also showcases a lot of what’s great about their new direction, like the killer dynamic between Jamie and Sarah K. on vocals, and a more full studio sound.
Most of Side A is original tracks, and make for a pretty good set of party tunes. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch, but “Gotta Thing For You” is the stand-out cut of the side, deep and growly and right smack in that sweet groove where all good jump blues lives, with the hard-driving “Cinderblocks” not too far behind.
Side B is all covers but one, and contains my three favourite cuts, including “He’ll Make A Way,” which is probably the best thing on the whole album. It captures the band’s versatility, lets everybody do their thing and shake loose a bit, but still digs way down deep to the emotional core of country blues. It’s risky including a Robert Johnson cover on an album, because you’re pretty much guaranteeing it will be the best song, unless of course you also include a Skip James cover, in which case even the Devil’s own guitarist would have to settle for number two. But catl nails it, and makes it their own, which is in itself no mean feat.
“5 Miles,” the lone original track on Side B, is notable for being the most foot-tapping, head-nodding song on the album, and I think it will also eventually be recognized as the the most memorable and fun of the uptempo numbers.
“Get Outta My Car,” a Hasil Adkins cover, is emerging as the obvious critical favourite, in no small part because they handle it like old hands, but also I think because it was an obvious direction for the band to go in, and doesn’t offer the same remarkable surprises as a cut like “Cocaine,” a slow-burning number that sees Sarah K. taking the lead on vocals. It was one of the best creative decisions the band could have made. She’ll never win American Idol, but that sort of voice would work against her; it would be too polished, too sterile and insincere. Instead she’s gentle and raw by turns, strong but never soft, belting out God’s own motherfucking Truth like a blues singer should.
I really didn’t think that catl could put out a record better than With the Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place, which remains one of the finest blues-punk albums I’ve heard, and one of the best new blues albums since the Black Keys’ Chulahoma (an album made up entirely of Junior Kimbrough covers), but Soon This Will All Be Gone has more than lived up to that challenge.