The Road to Limboland

Category: music 106

The Stanfields bring their latest album to New Brunswick playing shows in Fredericton and Moncton this weekend.

Matt Carter
Photo: KT Lamond

The Stanfields have a pair of New Brunswick performances coming up this month as part of a short, eight-date tour in celebration of the band’s latest album, Limboland. Released on March 23, the album finds the Halifax quintet continuing to shape their own brand of music inspired by Scottish ballads, sea chanties and rock and roll. While you can still hear hints of the beer-soaked, pub brawling anthems that helped define the band when they first started making waves nearly ten years ago, a lot has changed, and over the course of five full-length albums now, The Stanfields have somehow managed to keep evolving in a genre that has held back more artists than it’s supported.

For lack of a better term, the first few albums by The Stanfields could easily be classified as Celtic-Rock, a label that has proven to be more of a curse than a compliment for some. Very few bands who’ve been branded as such ever evolve past playing the corner stage in a rural watering hole, performing for audiences who seem equally interested in watching the muted sports highlights running on the TV monitor above the bar.

The band’s first two albums, Vanguard for the Young and Reckless (2010) and Death & Taxes (2012) are both packed with foot-stomping tunes and up-tempo, fist-to-the-table, sing-a-long songs that at times walk the line between cliché and originality while maintaining an expected high degree of energy. If not Celtic-Rock, then possibly East Coast rock, though I’m not sure if that’s more of an insult than a compliment these days either. But for an outside ear tuning in for the first time, both of these albums include elements that speak to a broader vision and an appreciation for variety over repetition. While frontman Jon Landry’s husky growl seems almost tailor made for shouting “last call for alcohol” before launching into what would probably be a pretty solid rendition of Barrett’s Privateers, he and his bandmates found the backdoor and fled that scene before it swallowed them whole.

Just a year after the release of Death & Taxes, the band did something completely different. They released an acoustic album. And that’s a pretty big risk, considering a lot of acoustic albums come at a time when a band is on their way out and creativity is running on fumes. But that was not the case for The Stanfields. In fact, 2013’s For King and Country introduced a new dynamic to the band’s sound and most likely opened the group up to new stages, opportunities and audiences. No longer hidden behind deafening volumes, the band’s third album was very much a successful “hey, we can do this” moment in the group’s timeline.

After the 180 that was For King and Country, the door was wide open. The band could pretty much do anything they wanted. And they did. Modem Operandi (2016) combined the “YO-HO Here We Go!” energy from the first two albums and the softer dynamic introduced on their last album, with a growing interest in mixing up the familiar form and structure commonly associated with the folk-rock combo. This break-from-tradition, along with a willingness to experiment sonically helped give album number four the strength to hold its own and carry with it the audiences who may have dug the group’s first three records but were unsure of where they’d end up.

This brings us to today and the release of Limboland, the first album to feature fiddler Calen Kinney and bass player Dillan Tate. In some respects the album can be looked upon like a career retrospective, drawing together everything that has brought the band to this point. To some degree that’s to be expected. Lyrically, there is a strong political undertone to Limboland with the group talking politics and environmental issues for what might be the first time. Musically, the group continue to play with new sounds and arrangements while feeling-out a new lineup and all the potential such a change can bring.

When placed along the group’s timeline that stretches back more than eight years now, critics may say The Stanfields’ evolution and growth is starting to slow down, citing the similarities that may exist between the last two albums. But at the same time, fans of the group may argue they’ve simply found what they’ve been searching for and are completely content in exploring a little closer to home these days. And that’s fine too. They’ve earned it. The band have successfully dodged industry pitfall after industry pitfall while at the same time challenging existing audiences and cultivating new ones. That’s something worth applauding.  

The Stanfields (w/ guest The Hypochondriacs) | March 30 | Charlotte Street Arts Centre | Fredericton | View Event 

The Stanfields (w/ guest The Hypochondriacs) | March 31 | Tide & Boar | Moncton | View Event

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