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A Review of 'Highball Bruiser' by Jolie Blue

All aboard!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls — welcome to a step back in time. Put the phone down, turn off the television, close your eyes (if you’re not driving) and let this album transcend you into another era. An era where computers never had a say in how music is made — no mixing, no mastering. This is the sound of a couple train-riding hobo’s land bound for a night. They’ve built a fire, got out whatever instruments they had strapped up in their hobo sacks and are very simply having a good old time. Perhaps that was absolutely what they needed at the time, perhaps they just took every opportunity they could to break out into tune. But they seem to have enjoyed it all the same.

In present day what I wouldn’t give to walk into a house party and hear these tunes playing from the living room corner. The band looks a little dirty and unkept, but their musicianship is tight as anything on the Top 100, and their passion for the art leaves them blind to any and everything else going on in the room.

Highball Bruiser will etch its way into history under any or all of the following categories.

1. Just another record about trains.

That alone should be praise enough. One strike of the needle to this beast will have anyone, educated in train songs or not, daydreaming of a simpler time in America. When we’d just build the railroad. The potential of the nation was untapped and therefore romanticized to its fullest extent thanks to the railway. The vein which would take us from what we knew, to everything we could possibly know.

2. A tribute to the greatest train songs of all time. This is essentially what the album is. Connor and the gang have dove deep into the Historical American Songbook and picked out the best, if not most well-known, tracks of the railroad. And buddy, there have been many. Not to mention the few originals meshed in, which blend in so fittingly you’d have never guessed they were written by Connor in the 21st century. You’ll hear a lot of tunes that many of your favourites have done, and a few that you maybe have never heard before. Which is merely a testament to Connor’s historical deep dive, which brings us to Option 3…

3. Historical Archive

Send this one straight to the Smithsonian! These songs ain't just songs well-loved amongst the American people for the last century, they’re also testimonials and tributes to an infant nation finding its way. It goes without saying these songs are being played less and less each year, until a guy like Connor rolls along, gives them fresh blood, and revives their spirit for a new generation to enjoy. We don’t know where we’re going, unless we’ve had a good hard look at where we’ve been. Highball Bruiser takes a good hard look at a very specific yet essential era in American History. Don’t just listen, pay attention.

I had noticed something early, when I first started listening to the music of Connor Jay: it’s damn good driving music. I remember taking an impromptu road trip down to Idaho just to see what this guy is all about. With an hour to go ’til Boise, I popped on what was then his most current release, Ponderosa. I noticed right then and there that Connor's music has the ability to transcend you. Not to anywhere in particular, but wherever your mind decides to go. Usually backwards.

As I closed in on Boise, his closing track, “Idaho Mountain Song,” came on, and I was everywhere and nowhere all at once. I had been gone only four days but was already weeping for the golden wheat fields of my own neck of the woods. At the same time, I was blissful knowing I was in Connor's homeland. A land so prevalent in this young man's mind that he was able to translate that raw emotion of feelings of home, enough that a simple prairie boy was getting choked up for the homeland. Mine, his, anyone’s homeland! It’s good to sing of home. This album is along that same vein. Not to mention Connors over-arcing nod to his Grandfather who worked these very rails. It’s a little tid-bit that will make you appreciate even more Connor’s attachment to this era, and lifestyle.

As a True North Strong & Free Canadian, I’ve always had a special appreciation for the railroad. It was the rail that built our Nation, back in 1867 when British Columbia agreed to join the Dominion under the sole condition that they build a railroad connecting them to the rest of Canada. Coast to coast and right through the Rocky Mountains, the most treacherous portion of the jaunt. Well I was just there when Connor sent me the sneak preview of Highball Bruiser for a listen. Cruising down the Trans-Canada Highway, which runs parallel to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The very railway that joined my nation together as one. And as I listened to Connor's record, heading east out of Banff, Alberta, staring at the adjacent railroad, I was immediately submerged into a different time, culture, and life.

Suffice to say everything went black and white.

The diesel motor trains that frequent the rail suddenly appeared to be fuelled off coal. And for the next hour and five minutes I was gone. If you long for understanding as to where you are, and where you came from, this album will help you. It will peek into a lifetime set aside by Father Time. Highball Bruiser is a gentle reminder of how prominent and golden that era was.

As Americans, you’re all aware of the industrial revolution that brought you where you are today. There was a special time in history when that revolution was taking place. Optimism in the air, a feeling that the very best is still ahead of us. You could taste it. Folks wrote songs about it. Those songs are still being sung to this very day, by good folks like Connor Jay & Co.

So go on, America. Pop this record on, sit back and let it take you to a time when the world didn’t seem so confusing and amiss. We had the railroad, the sky was our limit, we were making miles, and singing songs, nothing could stop us.

I hope that’s the very reminiscence you get by listening to Highball Bruiser.

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