My Black Ram’s self-titled debut is a commanding piece of polished pop and playful experimentation. Catch the band’s hometown release show Nov. 23 at The Capital and be sure to grab a copy of the album when it comes out this Friday.
One of the unfortunate things about living in a small community is the way we tend to project identities onto each other. Although it is usually an act of convenience and rarely done to intentionally pigeonhole someone, the simple act of labeling somebody, that tall guy who works at the library, or the girl with the green hair who works at the coffee shop, creates a narrow interpretation of who a particular person really is. These labels of convenience are particularly common in artistic circles where we are more likely to reference someone’s creative style when their name is not an option: the guy in that weird band you like, what’s her face who hosts open mic, or in the case of Fredericton musician Peter Hicks, that guy from Sleepy Driver.
In Hicks’ case, being referred to as that guy from Sleepy Driver is practically unavoidable. He’s fronted the band for over a decade (still does), released several albums and has been performing those songs in various configurations for years. When someone talks about alternative country music or roots-rock music from New Brunswick, Sleepy Driver often pops up in the conversation, as they should.
But I’m not here to gush all over Sleepy Driver. I’m here to talk about My Black Ram and to explore the question: How does that guy from Sleepy Driver try something new and step away from the band that has backed his voice and supported his songwriting for so long? How does he become that guy from My Black Ram, or better yet, that guy from those two bands?
Truth be told, My Black Ram isn’t that much of a departure for Hicks, at least not in terms of the group’s lineup. The band includes two of his longtime collaborators: John Heinstein (aka that keyboard player from Sleepy Driver) and Mike Hatheway (aka that bass player from Sleepy Driver). Together with drummer Jason Sonier (aka the other drum guy at Tony’s Music Box or respectfully, not Karl, the other guy – either works), My Black Ram provides Hicks with a bit of familiarity and lots of new possibilities. The best of both worlds, essentially.
But as much as My Black Ram offers a new platform for Hicks’ songwriting, the same could be said for keyboard player John Heinstein and the palette of sound he brings to this project. Heinstein is all over this band and its arrangements, like he has been patiently waiting for an avenue to explore his instrument’s tonal range and his shared love for pop music’s hooks, lines and sinkers.
With these two voices leading the charge, My Black Ram’s self-titled debut could only prove interesting.
The album opens with Golden Era, a track that surfaced back in early October as the band’s first single and one that immediately distinguishes the group as something new for all involved. But it isn’t until about three tracks in that My Black Ram truly becomes its own thing. Golden Era and the next track, Before This City Fell, sound like they could be Sleepy Driver songs that just didn’t make the cut (if either of them popped up in a Sleepy Driver setlist, I’m not sure anyone in the audience would raise an eyebrow). But by the time the band settles into Another Lover, with its quick punchy rhythm and head banging bridge, My Black Ram’s identity as an impressive pop rock quartet wholeheartedly channeling a mix of new wave nostalgia and perfectly polished radio rock becomes fully realized. It’s at this point that Hicks, Heinstein, Hatheway and Sonier collectively become, those guys from My Black Ram.
The rhythm section come into their own in a big way with Uh Huh, holding the song’s simple and effective repetition with a commanding presence. It is one of several perfect pop music moments on this record where simplicity reigns supreme and the hooks stay with you well into the next track.
The second half of the album finds the members of My Black Ram continuing to explore their new digs. From the squawking guitar break in Lost That Feeling, to the retro-infused synth leads in Sweet Time and the straight-up futuristic experimentation on the album’s closing track Transmission Lost, the newfound freedom this project offers these musicians is evident and palpable. You can hear how much fun they are having.
My Black Ram, the album, comes out this Friday and the band will headline an album release show at The Capital on November 23 with special guest Graeme Kennedy. 100% worth your time.
My Black Ram + Graeme Kennedy | Nov. 23 | The Capital | 8 p.m. | View Event