Review: Old James – Speak Volumes

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Written by Gary Hernandez

Old James—is it a scotch whisky, the name of your grandfather’s boat, or a legendary ghost of some dark forgotten ally? Probably, but it’s also a long-haired, Canadian hard rock trio out of Toronto.

You could perhaps consider them as part of the retro rock revival, or maybe just a straight-forward rock band. The band reminds me of The Answer and Graveyard, both of which bare similarities to Badlands.

August 2017, Old James released their first LP, Speak Volumes, and it does just that—speak volumes. It’s an album clearly meant to be played loud.

The album kicks off with ‘Don’t Put it on Me,’ a hard-rocking salvo to the man. The track is a retreatment of a song off their 2014 self-titled EP where it was the final track, seeming to say, “this is where we’re going.” As the first track on the LP, it seems to say “we have arrived.” It suitably sets the tone for the remainder of the album, showcasing the superb musicianship of each member, but especially the high-range vocal prowess of Brian Stephenson who also doubles on bass (a change in line up since their previous release).

Brian’s brother, Chris Stephenson, is the drummer, keeping the rhythm section all in the family. Chris also does a superb job on backing vocals, as evidenced on both ‘Lemons’ and the title track. The fact that he has the time, or rather the presence of mind to hit the harmonies he does while attending to the drum kit is mindboggling.

Rounding out the trio is Andy Thompson, who takes on the lead guitar duties, nimbly toggling from rhythm to lead, both of which he renders with equal measures of flair and intensity. This guy must tour with a trunk full of Red Bull and superglue.

A wide variety of styles comes across in Speak Volumes from funk to jazz to blues, all fused together on the anvil hard rock. My favorite tracks are ‘Don’t Put it on Me,’ ‘Words as Weapons,’ and ‘Kill off the Rose.’

Speak Volumes suffers no acoustic soul searching, no simpering love songs, just grooving riffs and funk-laden bass lines. The only speed bump is a one-minute track called ‘Bass-Ik Instincts.’ Now, I’m sure there’s some audiophile out there who will rave about things like feedback loops and modular impressions, but for me this would have been a good candidate for a hidden track.

I won’t say Old James recalls a day when hard rock was simpler and more honest. I think Old James is a modern band taking on modern issues. That it comes out loud and riveting is less about nostalgia and more about conviction, and the timeless call of the riff. 7/10

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