It’s been four years since the Hard Water EP and almost two now since Til the Morning Shows Her Face to Me, but the wait is over. The Gertrudes’ third studio album, Neighbourhood, is finally here. Out this fall from local indie label Apple Crisp, Neighbourhood showcases the band’s on-going evolution as musicians while staying true to their signature sound(s) and social pulse.
“I like to think of The Gertrudes as a musical collective that continues to change from project to project, depending on the make-up of musicians,” says Greg Tilson. “From a horn section and big vocal harmonies to heavy percussion, spectral processing, and acoustic instruments—these are all characteristics of a band whose rotating artists determine a broad spectrum of song writing and musical arrangement.”
The Gertrudes can shift in size from a smaller lineup of five or six musicians to a full ensemble that approaches a dozen people. And Neighbourhood is indeed an eclectic mix of songs that embrace some newfound edge. Several members credited the record’s more political nature in part to fellow musician, Jason Erb. He penned Neighbourhood’s first single “All the Dollar Bills Sing Hallelujah”, which debuted at #1 this summer on CBC Radio 3 and has garnered the group some considerable traction in the media.
“All the Dollar Bills Sing Hallelujah” is a barnstorming hymn that bravely questions the political sensibilities of Wall Street; in particular, it casts a critical lens on the type of greed and corruption which led to the most recent recession. The song has a melodic-chaotic quality that’s infectious and memorable, along with smart, fierce lyrics. The music video also creates a strong visual storytelling component which is clever and arresting, providing viewers with plenty of food for thought—and a call to action.
“It would be difficult not to notice that both globally and locally, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” says Annie Clifford. “The Gertrudes as a group have always been politically motivated, but especially so when issues of greed are involved. It’s a problem which manifests itself in ways that can be massively destructive to the planet, to other people, to our culture.”
“Anyone who says they don’t do politics, or aren’t into politics, is fooling themselves,” Josh added. “This album is certainly more explicit about our politics, but only because we’re trying to be aware of ourselves and the impact the choices we make have on the world around us.”
I agree with Josh, and I admire the band’s honest commitment to creating opportunities for their fans to explore contemporary topics with a sincerity and intimacy that bridges the personal and experiential with larger social issues. The Gertrudes continue to make great music that doesn’t sacrifice fun for gravitas.
Tracks from Neighbourhood like “Rhubarb Pie” harken back to some of their folk roots with a notable bluegrass inflection, while the lilting notes of “Water On Your Body” and “Without Praise” revel in everyday life’s small moments and quiet aches with unabashed warmth. The bright punk riffs of “Walking With Lola” and the album’s joyous namesake, “People in Your Neighbourhood”, will both leave you with a big smile on your face and an uncontrollable urge to dance.
I asked The Gertrudes what they were most excited about with Neighbourhood. Pete Bowers said that the opening track, “Well Dressed Man”, does the best job reflecting the band’s widest range of sound: “I can never get enough of that doubled guitar and theremin lead!” Annie mentioned the Kingston community itself as an on-going source of inspiration and influence. “It’s incredible, in a city of so many musicians that span so many different genres, how much we all have in common and how easy it is for everyone to know one another and get along, musically and personally.”
Matt Rogalsky was proud of their overall approach to making the album, which has a sense of continuity and spotlights the group’s knack for striking a beautiful balance between the acoustic and electric. “We are always interested in bringing some spaciness and ambient elements. This album’s repertoire runs from sparse acoustic tracks to a full on indie rock sound.”
Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene once famously described The Gertrudes as his favorite “folkestra.” It’s a dreamy compliment for the band, but also an apt observation that situates them well within Canada’s vibrant community of talented independent musicians. The Gertrudes are not just a Kingston gem; they’re the next big thing in a post-BSS world, marking the continued success a creative and collective approach to making music that makes a difference.
Listen to the full album online and see The Gertrudes perform live in Kingston at the Wolfe Island Grill on September 21 to celebrate the release of Neighbourhood. Tickets are available in advance and at the door.