“25 years, millions and millions of notes, and cases and cases and cases of High Life beer later we bring you Northern Burner, a musical transfiguration spanning the barnyard, outer space, and make believe.”
So says the press blurb for this celebratory quarter-century marking release from the redoubtable Dreadnaught, purveyors of diligently crafted musical mayhem to the environs of New Hampshire area and beyond. Their sound has always combined densely composed intricacies set comfortably within melodic structures that highlight wry humour and a distinct joie do vivre, and that remains the case here in a succinct 35-minutes, during which the core trio of Bob Lord (bass), Justin Walton (guitar) and Rick Habib (drums) bounce around the cushions like energised snooker balls, whilst judiciously keeping one foot firmly affixed to the floor.
It’s another instrumental tour de force that is distinctly Dreadnaught right from the off, the tones from Walton and Lord immediately offering a familiar feel. Pink Light forms a brief and sedate overture, introducing a theme which appears throughout the album. Swirling Hammond from guest Duncan Watt gives a spacey feel, drums coming in at the end before moving straight into the more upbeat Pig & Pony to nail down a twisty tale (tail?) of barnyard folk. It sweeps in and out of the melody, punctuated by intricate instrumental asides. Dreadnaught are particularly adept at holding this sort of thing together, mixing tempos and styles with slide-rule accuracy, the almost live feel adding to a dynamic sense of energy.
Rum Cake changes the tone, a mournful vignette with bass carrying the solemn melody, supported by guitar chords, percussion and keyboard. At eight-minutes, Monsignor Bananas is the album’s focal point, the extended running time giving plenty of space for the band to stretch out, from Habib’s forthright rhythm through a recurring bass melody strut that keeps everything on track. Walton shines amid the lovely ensemble work, the variety and detail keeping the listener involved, right through to the frantic ending. The album’s thematic consistency continues into Fantasy In Pink Light, which sounds just like you imagine it should, sparse and light as a feather with treated guitar, light keyboard touches and Mac Ritchey’s electric oud. Quite lovely.
The echoed foreboding of coming darkness infiltrates Sundown at the Barnyard, a picked out melody with wind effects prefacing a jump into a circular theme. Walton’s soloing is uplifting and there’s a joyous feel, right down to the unexpected breaks of honkytonk piano, an echoed fade into Parlor Tricks acting as a coda, the theme continuing with a different feel, augmented by electronic effects from Jon Wyman.
Pony & Pig is very different to its alternately named cousin; more barnyardy and edgy, Lord’s trebly bass up front, supported by electric piano and organ as the sound builds to a frantic romp, the theme re-emerging in stately form. Finally Throwing in the Towel (hopefully just a jolly title rather than a message of intent) brings us home with another crisp and strident strutter to send the album out on a high.
As with much of Dreadnaught’s work, this is an album that grows in stature as you listen, and repeated visits pay healthy dividends. The joy that the band imbue into everything they do, and their dexterity in delivering it, is guaranteed to spread a smile across even the most careworn visage. I always look forward to a new Dreadnaught release, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint.
01. Pink Light (1:50)
02. Pig & Pony (4:35)
03. Rum Cake (1:24)
04. Monsignor Bananas (8:16)
05. Fantasy in Pink Light (2:10)
06. Sundown at the Barnyard (5:20)
07. Parlor Tricks (3:01)
08. Pony & Pig (5:21)
09. Throwing in the Towel (2:23)
Total Time – 34:20
Rick Habib – Drums, Percussion
Bob Lord – Bass Guitars, Production
Justin Walton – Electric Guitars
Duncan Watt – Keyboards
Mac Ritchey – Electric Oud, Percussion
Jon Wyman – Programming, Engineering, Mastering
Record Label: Independent
Country of origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 14th December 2021