Universal Music Canada
Crown Lands, the Oshawa, ON, duo, have released their début album, which is self-titled. These cats can make an unholy noise, steeped in the tradition of the White Stripes, of blues-based, gritty rock duos of guitar and drums. But Crown Lands, not content to be White Stripes revivalists, also incorporate a fair amount of prog. Think Rush meets the Stripes. Drummer/singer Cody Bowles has a voice that could shame Geddy Lee. And as Keith Comeau, the guitarist says,
There’s always this push-pull between wanting to be a prog-rock band and then realizing that, when we pick up our instruments, the blues just comes out much easier. So we’re always bouncing between thinking and feeling.
This duality is echoed in the very name of the band and their composition. We reviewed their haunting and beautiful single, ‘End of the Road’ and the accompanying visuals, about the Highway of Tears, aka: Highway 16 in British Columbia, where upwards of 40 indigenous women have gone missing and have been presumed murdered over the haunting, heavily forested and desolate 600km stretch from Prince George to Prince Rupert. Those 40 women are a drop in the bucket of the murdered and missing indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA in Canada, including one of my childhood babysitters. This is one of Canada’s many national shames when it comes to our nation’s relations with the indigenous population.
The very name of the band is a wicked little joke. In Canada, Crown lands are lands owned by the government. All of Canada (and the United States for that matter) is based on land that was taken, whether by force or unequal and unfair treaty, from the indigenous population. Bowles is himself a two-spirit from the Mik’maq Nation of Nova Scotia and the entire purpose of the band’s mission are on a mission to represent a sense of empowerment for marginalized communities through their music and the weighty subject matter of their lyrics.
They can back up their hefty political punch with some wicked grooves. These lads know how to rock hard. ‘Spit It Out’ begins with this filthy fuzzed out guitar before the drums and Bowles’ voice kicks in and we get a stomping blues rock number glammed out by his voice. The White Stripes comparison writes itself, as this was the first song they wrote for this album, after seeing Jack White live. And they are well aware of being in a rock duo, this is the obvious comparison, so they’re tackling it head on. And, of course, they’re nice Canadian lads, so when there’s conflict, they don’t yell and scream at each other, they sulk, they avoid each other, they get passive/aggressive. So this is their call to arms, to just ‘spit it out.’
‘River’ opens with the steady drums of Bowles before he and Comeau’s guitar kick in and he sounds like Robert Plant in ‘Immigrant Song’ before he kicks in gear. I love the dissonance between Bowles’ glam/prog rock voice and the fuzzed out blues rock stomp of the music.
‘Leadfoot’ is the current single, and really, I can’t do it justice the way Comeau can:
’Leadfoot’ started as a cautionary tale about speeding but quickly became some sort of song about interstellar love. Lots of space and nature imagery keep the song from touching down into reality but the music is quite rooted in blues and glam rock. Is it about aliens? Is it about cars? Is it about aliens driving cars? Maybe. Either way, it’s a lot of fun to play.
The other part of the genesis of this song comes from Comeau getting a speeding ticket on tour, which greatly upset him, as he considers himself a very responsible drummer. But, of course, responsible driving is not really all that rock’n’roll now, is it?
‘Howling Back’ is a bad ass boogie stomp, and I think one of my favourite tracks on the album. Over Bowles’ funky drums, he sort of dials back the vocal pyrotechnics as Comeau plays a wicked little slide. This track is deeply inspired by the Oshawa music scene, based as it is in a ‘dark and creepy’ blues, also known as blackgrass. I hear everything glorious in this from Seasick Steve to Nazareth to Bob Log III and even some Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. This is the shit.
‘End of the Road,’ well, this is just a killer track, Bowles’ drums are bouncing, and he definitely tones it down here, singing about the end of the road for those missing women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA. This song haunts me, it haunts my nightmares, in part because of my babysitter, but just the pure terror of the victims on the Highway of Tears, and the fact that, as a nation, Canada just doesn’t give a fuck. To plagiarize my own review of this song as single: due to series of calamitous issues and indifference and racism on the part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police forces across the country, ‘”reliable estimate of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA persons in Canada,’ according to Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, an official government inquiry into what is referred to MMIW in Canada. The report was issued in June 2019. And even at that, we do know that in the 21st century, the homicide rate for indigenous women, girls, and two-spirits was six times higher than the national average. So, yeah. Oh, Canada.
‘Forest Song’ was intended to be the stereotypical Crown Lands song, about being in the forest. But then the lads went down to Nashville to work with Dave Cobb (Rival Sons, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, John Prine), and he helped them re-arrange the track, re-worked the harmonies and introduced the vari-speed drums to add that John Bonham-effect. This is another killer track, in large part due to the drums and then the bridge with this nasty little riff from Comeau.
This short album, only seven tracks and 27 minutes ends with the acoustic ‘Sun Dance,’ which was meant to be their acoustic cheese, mixed with some apocalyptic imagery. The Sun Dance, of course, is a ceremony practiced primarily by the Prairies/Plains indigenous peoples of North America, an intense spiritual and physical experience, which became popular in the late 19th/early 20th centuries as a millenarian movement across the interior of the continent. Not surprisingly, it was banned by the Canadian (and American) governments, only ‘re-legalized’ in 1951.