The latest album from Toronto guitarist/singer/songwriter Chris Antonik, Monarch, released in February of this year, is the last in what is described as “a trilogy of self-expression”. As is often the case, dealing with some personal setbacks brought out some of that self-expression in the form of the Blues. Not unexpected, as deep human feelings are an integral part of the genre. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the album will be full of slow moving, emotion filled ballads.
The CD comes with a booklet containing all the credits for the songs, and also an occasional line or paragraph about the song or its history, a nice personal touch for those of us that read the credits.
Right from the first cut, “I’d Burn It All Down For You”, dedicated to his children, you know you are going to hear some modern ass-kickin’ blues-rock, with some meaningful lyrics. This is not just a trio like we have seen live, here Chris is with longtime associate Guenther Kapelle on bass, and Chuck Keeping on drums, but also a great horn section, Richard Underhill, Perry White, and William Sperandei, along with Jesse O’Brien on keyboards. The resulting sound is going to make folks move when they hear it.
Of the 13 tracks on the album, only two are not original from Chris, “You’re Killing My Love,” written by Nick Gravenites and Mike Bloomfield. As he mentions in the credits it is “by way of Otis Rush”, which means it is a funky version of the tune. Not the only song on the album to have a cool funky vibe, “Gold Star”, “Forgiveness is Free,” “Hungry Ghost,” and “A Slip in the Rain” all fit there too.
This is one of the best things about this album, for me. I had heard so much about how Chris had been in some tough times, and half expected the songs to be slow and moody. Not at all. Just listening to the music, without concentrating on the words, will make you feel quite upbeat. Then, once you start to listen to the words, you realize that while they refer to sad or rough times, the character seems to have learned how to move on, and leave it in the past.
The other song that is not an original is “Everywhere I Go”, written by Chris’s song writing partners Ben Fisher and Paul Olsen. Nice acoustic ballad that finishes off the album, with Paul and Ben singing backup vocals.
Besides the excellent musicians Chris has on the album, he brought in Samantha Martin, Sherie Marshall and Stacie Tabb for vocals on some of the songs, including my favorite of the album, “The Monarch and the Wrecking Ball,” which tries to show that opposites not only attract, but can make things work. The song “The Art Of Letting Go” has a bit of a jazzy feel, where the vocals of those singers mix in wonderfully with Chris’s soaring guitar.
About “All Our Days”, a bit of a country rock ballad, Chris says, “This song is a question. If a couple were to flash forward to the end of their lives, and look back on their relationship, would they see it as having been a good experience?”
There is an interesting ‘short story’ in the credits booklet about “Love, Bettike”, about a traveler, meeting an angel, and the song has some true blues-rock crying guitar playing.
The cut “Slow Moving Train” “is not slow on purpose”. It is about living in our fast-paced world of today, and how we should slow down a bit to enjoy life a bit better. Another modern blues-rocker.
Although normally praised for his guitar work alone, Chris goes all out on this one. The vocals are superb, whether belting it out, or in a near whisper falsetto. The addition of the talented musicians and vocalists only made the finished product that much better.
Of the trilogy, I think this album is his best by a long margin, and I am looking forward to seeing him perform some of these songs live.