I’m forever being impressed with the level, variety, and quality of music coming out of Hamilton. The city doesn’t have the reputation of Cape Breton or Nashville, New Orleans or Muscle Shoals, and one reason might be because there isn’t just one genre of music being produced, but so many. So, too, that the blues people, for example, don’t know what’s happening in the bluegrass or fingerstyle guitar community. But the recent unearthing of a long lost Gordon Lightfoot recording at a Hamilton studio is telling, in a way. The Band signed their first contract here, just as it gave rise to Daniel Lanois. Today it’s the home—bet you didn’t know this one—of Emory Lester, one of the foremost bluegrass mandolin players in the world. We tend to look at locals and think, “well, she’s pretty good for here.” But Alfie Smith is great for anywhere. And he lives here. And on and on it goes. Hamilton, when you really get down to it, is an embarrassment of musical riches, in spite of the fact that so few seem to really think of it that way.
This latest release, A Devil’s Urge, from Dave Pomfret only supports the point. I worry that people might hear this and think, “yes, he’s good, you know, for here.” But if it wasn’t clear before, he’s good for anywhere. (Musically anyway. As a graphic artist … um … let’s say, given the cover art here, his desire exceeds his grasp.)
He clearly is willing to take some risks, and they pay off. The horn parts that bring in “Ballad of the Body Building Bandit,” set an aggressive tone for the album, and underscores the intention to work beyond the tried and true rock format. There’s some clarinet in here, too. Nice.
The stories that he tells perhaps don’t stray as far, and the writing sticks close to the typical rock themes: failed relationships, trouble, and regrets. The tune “Bury the Hatchet” takes it into overly aggressive territory—he sings, “I’ll bury the hatchet, as long as I can bury you too”—and it perhaps backfires a bit. It’s a revenge song, but it edges into psychokiller territory. Maybe she was better without him, one starts to think. Just saying. It might just be a safety issue.
Where the album really shines is in the richness of the production, and there’s an impressive cast that have lent their skills to the project. They bring a lot of grit and depth, while also opening up some space on the ballads, as on “Maybe It’s Me” and “She Can’t Smile Anymore.”
From top to bottom, there’s a lot to like. I only worry that the album won’t gain the kind of legs that it should. Because it deserves an audience, one beyond the city limits. I hope that it finds it.