REVIEW: The ACT Americana Trio — True North (EP)
The ACT Americana Trio is the latest example in a long line of skilled Canadian musicians and songwriters attracted to American roots music. The Band, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, among many others, have put their own spin on folk, country, and blues. Vancouver’s ACT Americana Trio joins their ranks with their EP release True North. The four track collection gathers the songwriting talents of Andre Chrys, Chris Lok, and Taryn Laronge without ever sounding chaotic and a first-class supporting cast of musicians helps fill out the sound on several cuts.
“True North” is the EP’s opener and lead single. It is as clear to me now as the first time I hear the song that the trio knows they have something special with the title song. They behave accordingly. It has a steady pace, never rushed, and an airy arrangement encourages balance and clarity. Its tempo flashes with rock and roll energy but much of the track owes its success to the classic country echoes reverberating throughout the piece.
The distinctive pedal steel guitar is a stylistic exclamation point in that style. This mainstay instrument of the genre has fallen out of favor in recent years as the modern Nashville scene continues its long but inevitable march towards jettisoning such hoary affectations. The trio provides the core sound for this and the EP’s other three songs, but “True North” would be diminished by the absence of its additional musicians.
The video clip released with the single is classy and thoughtfully presented. The visual representations of the title song’s insistent and recurring imagery seduce the eye without ever striking me as forced. “True North” is far from strident, but it is a statement of purpose and its themes of “leave-taking” and longing for personal freedom are superbly depicted. “True North” serves notice that ACT Americana are committed artists.
The song’s language speaks for itself. ACT Americana relies on succinct and accessible lyrics phrased with each line’s emotive potential in mind. Even a half-hearted listen to “True North” reveals the dedication they’ve invested in the song and its personal meaning for each member. You don’t address yourself so comprehensively to something you feel wishy-washy about.
The remainder of the EP matches the opener’s high standard. Laronge steers the ship vocally for the second track “Rescue Fantasy” and casts a much different influence on the material than her fellow singers. It isn’t because she’s a woman — she has a much more soulful and less declarative voice than her predecessor. “Whole Lotta Livin’” has arguably the EP’s biggest chorus and its multiple voices strike an affirmative note. Any audience who hears this will want to sing along.
It’s a communal listening experience. The ACT Americana Trio has no specific ax to grind, but their songs make it clear we’re all in this together without ever spelling it out. True North convincingly makes the case that these musicians and songwriters are among the best working today in this genre. Let’s hope we hear a longer studio release sometime soon.