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Whitehorse

Leave No Bridge Unturned – 2015 (Six Shooter)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Whitehorse

Whitehorse is a Canadian duo made up of popular solo artists Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. Husband and wife have teamed up to create something that stretches beyond the boundaries of their pop and indie rock careers. Canadian alternative country music is noticeably different from its American counterpart, as the echoes of Neil Young's genre hopping influence has a tendency to show itself in the music of bands like Blue Rodeo, The Sadies and Whitehorse.

The duo has created an album vaguely informed by the sounds of classic spaghetti westerns. Unlike their counterparts in The Sadies (who released the fantastic "Rat Fink" instrumental album), Whitehorse use the template as a starting point rather than worrying about being faithful to tradition. Their sweet vocals thread a vein of pop throughout, countering the reverb heavy guitar licks and pounding percussion. The album begins with "Baby What's Wrong," a track full of swagger and Mexicana influences. The bouncing beat beckons listeners to dance along. Things take a darker turn on "Tame as the Wild Ones," which highlights McClelland's strong voice and has a haunting feel reminiscent of The Civil Wars.

For the majority of the album, the duo explore retro soundscapes, channeling Dusty Springfield on "Sweet Disaster," penning a fun surf rock song with plenty of organ in "Downtown" and playing homage to Neil Young's older material on "Fake Your Death." It is an interesting collaboration, genre hopping through a number of fun songs. The spaghetti western stomp of "You Get Older" is a fantastically entertaining listen, with a driving percussion reminiscent of spurs and brief flourishes of horns. McClelland's vocals get fuzzy as the guitars take on extra twang.

There is a blues stomp to "The One I Hurt," a dirty rock song with modern flair in the vein of The Black Keys. Doucet's sweet voice is a little strange at first, contrasting with the grit of the music, but after a few listens it begins to make sense. McClelland's howl backs him up, entwining with handclaps and organ to give it a southern revival feel, although the dark tone contrasts the idea of religious ecstasy. The album closes with the strongest contender for a country song, "The Walls Have Drunken Ears," featuring prominent guitar licks and a rowdy honky tonk feel in the vein of Corb Lund.

The missteps occur when they bring their sounds too much into the present. "Evangelina" is typical radio friendly Canadian indie rock and sounds overly plain in comparison to the rest. They have the same issue again on "Oh Dolores," largely forgettable in the wake of the album as a whole. It is all too typical mainstream Canadian rock and doesn't fit with the retro sounds the majority of the album explores.

"Leave No Bridge Unburned" is far from typical country fare. These songs are rough and rowdy songs with elements of rockabilly, blues and classic rock. While the Canadian mainstream country scene is focused on releasing traditional country music similar to what was coming from the U.S. in the '90s, the alt-country scene is thriving on the wild sounds of Lindi Ortega, Corb Lund and Whitehorse.