Hit and Run is the latest album from Montreal’s most cherished ska sensations, One Night Band. This album, their second full-length, represents quite a departure from their debut “Way Back Home” (released in 2006 on Stomp), delivers a solid 15 tracks, some definitely stronger than others.
One Night Band has developed an impressive following in Montreal, Quebec, and the rest of Canada since their beginnings in 2003 for a few different reasons. For one, they rose to prominence to fill a void in the Montreal ska scene which was left by the demise of bands like General Rudie, the Kingpins, and Gangster Politics. Montreal used to be the uncontested “ska capital” of Canada, and many Montrealers were craving some of that traditional ska that the older bands brought. The band also has an incredible work ethic. They have toured consistently in the last few years, contributed to side projects (Blood and Fire, the Fabulous Lolo Sings Rocksteady, the Stomp Allstars, etc.), and they even own their own recording studio, Indygene.
I visited the band at Indygene studios during the recording of Hit and Run last summer. Tucked deep into the garment and textile district of Montreal, I was impressed with how laid back yet hard-working the guys in the band were, taking the time to chat and joke around, but working for 2 weeks straight to finish the album. Brian Dixon, guitarist for the Aggrolites, was flown up to Montreal by ONB to produce the album, and even he was impressed with how comfortable the band was in the recording studio. The results of that comfort, as well as Brian Dixon’s hand on the controls, can definitely be heard throughout the album.
Which brings us back to Hit and Run, which hit stores earlier this week in Canada. The album starts out with band leader Alex Giguere’s raunchy guitar licks on “Wait a Minute”, and launches into a nice Motown soul grove before seamlessly falling into an upbeat skinhead reggae vibe. The second song, “Walk in Line”, follows in the same pattern. The album overall is slower, with less ska tracks, and an emphasis on the percussion and Larry Love’s wonderful organ playing.
Giguere’s gritty vocal stylings have been compared to Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers, but the songwriting material definitely doesn’t delve as deep as their New York counterparts. Another marked different from “Way Back Home” is the lack of horns on Hit and Run. The band has been stripped down to a 4-piece, with just a bit of help from Josh Furhman (former Kingpins, Smokers) and Christine Charbonneau on saxophones, and Patrick Taylor on trombone. The line-up changes have resulted in a sound which is very similar to the Aggrolites, which is not surprising, given that Brian Dixon was a major part of this album. The 3 short instrumental tracks on the album, “Larry Love”, “The Mysterious P”, and “Safari” are where we hear Larry’s talents come through on the keys rather than horn solos.
Hit and Run, contrary to Way Back Home, also features no songs in French. This is a bit of a disappointment to me, as Way Back Home’s bilingual content really represented the spirit of Montreal, a completely bilingual city.
One Night Band have perhaps fallen victim to the trap of so many bands who put out phenomenal debut cd’s, and then have a hard time meeting the fan expectations of their sophomore efforts. As a stand-alone, Hit and Run is a very enjoyable album, but not quite as good as their first.
But what Hit and Run lacks in musicianship is made up by One Night band in the live shows they deliver, and the amazing ska community they have built around them. Over the last couple years, they have worked very closely with some of the heavy-hitters in the North American ska scene, including King Django, Mitch Girio (former King Apparatus), Lorraine Muller (former Kingpins), the Toasters, Chris Murray, and the list goes on. What we have seen around One Night Band is a rebirth of interest in early reggae and roots-ska music in Montreal, and for many, that can only be a good thing.