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Cody Canada & The Departed have just released their highly anticipated 4th album and their 1st as a trio, hence the title ‘3.’ I became aware of Cody Canada (vocals/ guitar) and Jeremy Plato (bass/ vocals) many, many years ago now when their previous band Cross Canadian Ragweed released their self-titled album, the so called ‘Purple’ album due to its sleeve. I immediately went backwards back then to collect their former independently released albums and have followed them closely since that time. One of the most popular Red Dirt bands with their blend of guitar based Rock and Country making them immediately identifiable. Their songs over the years have touched my soul with the likes of ‘Blue Bonnets’ always making me think of my grandmother who loved blue bonnets, ‘Back Around’ for those days when everything is going wrong, and so many others like ’17,’ ‘Lighthouse Keeper,’ etc. When Cross Canadian Ragweed went their separate ways, Cody Canada and Jeremy Plato stayed together to form The Departed and released their debut album of old cover songs that they made their own. Their sound became rougher on follow up album ‘Adventus,’ which has some fine songs but has never been my favorite by them. One of their original Departed mates Seth James then left the band. A few years ago, the band released an incredible third album called ‘HippieLovePunk’ that was one of my most listened to albums in 2015 and remains a mainstay in my rotation today leading to this new album. Eric Hansen (drums) rounds out this awesome trio. The three early songs released from ‘3’ did a great job of setting the table, and I am pleased to say the wait for this one has been worth it. The band has done a fantastic job blending elements of their past and present together with an eye toward the future as these songs should be welcomed like old friends in the live setting moving forward.
Kicking things off with ‘Lost Rabbit,’ the band takes a George Thorogood type blues rocker and puts their own identifiable stamp on it. Ironically, I have been slower to warm up to this song than the rest of the album. The brilliant ‘Lipstick’ follows with what can end up being a Departed anthem with the inclusion of the harmonica and brilliant guitar work by Canada. The hook is huge with great backing vocals by Plato and Hansen. I think this song could fit comfortably on past Cross Canadian Ragweed albums, which is a feeling that I get from a lot of this album, making it feel like an old friend. The picking on ‘A Blackbird’ shines with Canada’s distinct vocals making this another song that will stick in your head. What’s remarkable about this album is how it seems to build and get even better as it goes. ‘Daughter Of The Devil’ features great work by Plato (bass) and Hansen (drums) on this fun song that sees Canada provide a spoken word style vocal in the verses. Ironically, this song recalled something akin to the songs on the ‘This Is Indian Land’ covers album. This trio is tight and create some great jams within these studio versions.
‘One Of These Days’ sees Jeremy Plato take over lead vocals with his smooth delivery always providing a perfect counterpoint to Canada’s grittier style. This serves as the first ballad on the album and provides a nice short moment to catch your breath. Repeated listens have continued to leave me wondering why they placed another slower song ‘Footlights’ next. What helps them here though is that Canada takes the lead on this one with additional vocals done by someone else (I don’t have a press sheet to tell me who but have my suspicions). This Haggard cover serves as a perfect nod to the classic outlaws. All of the guitar work here is simply awesome. ‘Paranoid’ turns the Rock back up in a big way recalling the venom from ‘HippieLovePunk’ and vintage CCR, who always had the ability to burn the house down with aggressive Rock when they wanted (‘Don’t Need You’ anyone?). This ends the first half of the album in pure style with awesome guitars, a talkbox, and a fist in the air.
Remarkably, as I mentioned previously, this album continues to get stronger and stronger for me. The breezy mid tempo commercial radio gold of ‘Satellites And Meteors’ opens the second half with more terrific vocals by the entire band. Canada’s guitar riff here has already got stuck in my head a few times. The band sound totally relaxed and realizing that the chemistry between the three of them is electric on this album. ‘Unglued’ might be my favorite song on the album and hits a special place lyrically with me that Canada has excelled at over the years. This acoustic red dirt rocker should be all over the radio here in Texas, Oklahoma, and, if there were any justice, the rest of the world. ‘Sam Hain’ mines the old Rock side of Cross Canadian Ragweed with a powerful statement on American politics. The guitar solo is awesome as are the fills by Hansen. The band might as well set aside 4 minutes of their setlist every night for the foreseeable future for this one. ‘Song About Nothin’’ follows with a great easy going feeling of red dirt music with a great commercial hook. This should be a massive sing along in the years to come with Canada explaining in an interview that this song served as a catalyst to write the rest of the album thanks to a recommendation by the awesome singer/ songwriter Wade Bowen.
Approaching the end of the album, the bluesy ‘Better’ thrives on a basic Blues beat, great backing vocals, and Canada’s lead. Up next is another that is already a live favorite, the band’s cover of ‘Betty Was Black (And Willie Was White)’ smokes from start to finish. You may know this one based on the version Todd Snider did many years ago, but The Departed take control of this funky rocker detailing an interracial relationship and the challenges they overcome. Plato and Hansen create magic in the rhythm section and are totally in sync which allows Canada to pick spots to show his amazing skill on the guitar. While the album version is only four and a half minutes, this one can easily stretch out in the live setting. Sadly, we arrive at the final track ‘1800 miles,’ a simmering burning ballad that ends the album in style. The minimal instrumentation allows Canada to deliver a powerful vocal that may rank as one of his best performances of his career. It actually recalls the feeling ‘Indifference’ gives me on Pearl Jam’s ‘vs’ album. Mike McClure’s production on this album is perfect as the songs have a live feeling, but the performances are simply perfect. Extra instrumentation is added here and there to the songs, but the band can recreate all of these songs live with just the three of them. Oh, the “hidden” track provides a smile at the end of the album.
Cody Canada has talked about this album reclaiming his earlier style with Cross Canadian Ragweed, and I can definitely hear what he means. I loved ‘HippieLovePunk’ from the first time I heard it, and it was my #2 album of the year back in 2015. After several listens of this new one, I feel comfortable saying the band has released their best work as The Departed. They have taken their sound to another level and released a definitive statement of who they are that should resonate with fans from Canada and Plato’s past as well as brand new fans. I might have sequenced the album a little differently as I still think ‘Lost Rabbit’ gets forgotten over the course of the album, but, knowing me, that will be one of my favorites six months from now. That album of the year competition with Dizzy Reed, Karen Jonas, and the Amorettes just became even more complicated at the midpoint of the year.
Review – Gerald Stansbury