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Andre Ethier - On Blue Fog

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Artist: Andre Ethier

Album: On Blue Fog

Label: Blue Fog

Review date: Oct. 2, 2007


Andre Ethier - "On Lies" (On Blue Fog)


"Little baby, nothing is written in stone," croons Mr. Ethier, and he oughta know, as the band he co-led, the Deadly Snakes, ground to a halt last year, despite burgeoning success in his homeland of Toronto and inroads into the States. Having pushed far beyond the restraints of the garage rock revival scene they were born into, their swan song Porcella might have overextended his group a bit, pitting a well-trod yet successful attempt at singer-songwriter levity against a scene too nearsighted to appreciate many of its underlying values. Its songs were studies of pain resting in a brandy snifter, the band valiantly finding a highbrow solution to a generally lowbrow equation. On Blue Fog, Andre Ethier's third solo album (but the first to cross my path), his songs revel in that pain, channeling it into the disgust from which he liberates years of the selfless toil that comes from underappreciation.

I've seen things from his side. The Snakes came down and played a basement rock club I was booking in Manhattan about four years ago, at the tail end of a particularly trying tour. Expectations were set pretty high, but heavy rains kept out all but a stalwart two dozen paying customers, and a malfunctioning organ clinched it: this was to be a practice, not a real show. I saw in Ethier's eyes that familiar look that men take on when Crom had thrown one too many obstacles in their paths. On Blue Fog thrusts a similar burden on the listener, a scattered yet confident set of quietudes that address the troubles of life, all the while cognizant of the times of grace.

It helps that Ethier sounds unconcerned; this is the sort of late night set that reaches for Blood on the Tracks but is fine with settling several notches lower (Saint Dominic’s Preview, perhaps). Songs drift in and out of fragile balladry (“Honeymoon”) before pushing off into a sea of chop, remarkably at ease in a stir of droning guitars, accordion, vibes and dobro. His voice adjusts, a confident folk baritone that rises to Mayo Thompson-esque levels of shaky yet expressive falsetto (“Hard Landing”).

His arrangements account for a full band, but also solo performances on guitar and, oddly, ukulele. Wresting the small strings from the hands of burlesque performers and the incurably twee, this is the instrument that Ethier seems to connect with best, and the album’s best offerings all feature it, as if its petite size allows for chording outside of the ken of guitarists, and allows him the room to perform as a frontman with a greater level of comfort. He really only belts ‘em out when he’s playing it.

The vulnerability Ethier exhibits is welcome here and contributes to the flow of the album overall. This is especially true of the victorious, stormy closer “Pride of Egypt,” and even more so of the album’s centerpiece, “On Lies.” Here, Ethier fires off what could be parting shots at former bandmates (“We broke down and broke their hearts / And we were the last to know / We were the last to see him speak / On about an ounce of blow up in his face again”) over spacious atrium blues that recall the easygoing stabs a band like the Faces, in their prime, were so adept at: crackling, human, a revelatory mess. There’s a handful of duds inside, but also three of the year’s finest songs, which, hopefully, won’t slip by like so much of his previous accomplishments.

By Doug Mosurock

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