Twangy diversions and an education in the blues - Metro US

Twangy diversions and an education in the blues

Shiny Things and Other Distractions, the new album by Hamilton singer-songwriters Mark McNeil and Kris Rochard, certainly lives up to its name.

Not only does it come in a tin case (shiny) adorned with a steel guitar (shiny), but the songs are also as diverting as shiny things are to a magpie.

The album is a bit of a pastiche, and each song evokes a different, eclectic influence. You can hear something borrowed from everything from Stevie Ray Vaughan, to the Beach Boys and beyond.

The guitar riff on the title track Shiny Things, accompanied by a mean harmonica that has all the rocky-tonk vibe of The Rolling Stones’ Midnight Rambler, is rounded off by a strong harmony in the chorus.

There are the softer more playful rhythms of Rain Man, and Other Side of the Sun that give the album its adult contemporary vibe.

And Sunny Days with You — a semi-finalist in the recent 2011 Song of the Year Awards, a major American songwriting contest that attracts entries from around the world — mixes Rochard and McNeil’s harmonies to perfection. The result is a melody that could easily find a home on a soundtrack.

Although McNeil says he didn’t play the steel guitar from the cover art on Shiny Things or any other song on the album, its presence captures the lilting whims of the vast array of genres covered on the album.

The genre officially reads as alternative — according to my computer’s media player — but the feel of the album is more of a journey through something bluesy, mixed with adult contemporary and tied together with an alternative country rock twang. With the occasional well-positioned egg shaker and bongo, there’s a folk feel to some songs as well.

The lyrics move from topics as diverse as B.B. King in an Education in the Blues, to building castles in the sand on Daydreaming About You. Then there’s Kris Rochard’s Melissa Etheridge-inspired rant about The Rent, which sounds like the title track to a whole new album. While most musicians shy away from being compared to others, Rochard picked up a guitar because of Etheridge, according to McNeil. And, if you tell McNeil he sounds a little like Tom Petty, which he unmistakably does, he won’t be heartbroken. He’ll simply say, “Yeah, a lot of people say that.”

The melodies, hooks and lyrics throughout are tight.

Then you make your way to the last track, the most divergent — a favourite among fans, and again appropriately named since it takes a different path than the rest of the tracks.

Falling Away has all the alternative sound needed to afford the genre title on the album. It has the ethereal guitar licks you’d expect to find in a ’90s alternative ballad, something reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies, accented by darker lyrics that reminded me of a David Lynch film.

Whatever your musical tastes, there’s a track on here you can appreciate as the songs says, “Shiny things / call out to you / shiny thing / no matter what you do / shiny things / shine on you.”

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