The North Star Band 2022
Out of oblivion and on to the rodeo, outlaw also-rans claim their legacy and stave off riding into sunset.
A seven-year run may have resulted in a seven-year itch for this bunch, who dared to rode high with the likes of “Wild Turkey” back in the day, yet their road was cut short in 1982, once country rock went out of fashion for a spell of time, so the combo’s third platter got shelved. Still, the spell came full circle four decades later, when the ensemble’s reunion showed their magic never left the stage, and ten new tracks which emerged in its wake brought forth the idea of releasing them together with the dusted-off and sonically updated, and possibly freshly sequenced, old material. Hence, “Then & Now”: the double album displaying, through the unity of the record’s 35-minute-long halves, the sunning continuity of the veterans’ output – a no mean feat, given there are five writers in the band.
Both fans and the uninitiated should cherish iron logic – or logical irony – in the “Then” part of it being kicked off by “Lonesome Losers” whose Al Johnson-led tight vocal harmonies and instrumental interplay, where Jay Jessup’s steel strings shine ever brightly against Lou Hager’s piano splashes, feel infectious enough to affect the roughly hewn, if touching, pop sentiment of “‘Til I Laid My Eyes On You” and the old-timey roll of “Still Believing” that’s as deeply warm as a hearth and heart. But while many of these cuts host frivolity, the honeyed “You’re Not The One To Blame” and “Where Does That Get You To” house the group’s plush pining, their acoustically detailed, scintillating romanticism wooing the charts in “I Shouldn’t Act This Way” to the resonant rumble of David Watt Besley’s bass – just like the harmonica-spiced “Emergency” does in the most playful manner, before the banjo-bitten first finale “Smoke Horizon” exudes the sweet aroma of bluegrass and takes the album’s narrative to its start, to Tennessee.
However, despite the triumphant opening salvo, “Brown Shoe Willy” offers the listener a storytelling mode, relocating the “Now” part to Louisiana, and proposes a delicate sway to a discerning ear, and “Climb That Wall” addresses our era’s challenges with a sharp riff and a slider flourish at the fore and a memorably chiseled chorus further down the line, until the nervous “Goose Creek” welcomes western winds to carry its exquisite solos, and the tender “Marianne” turns in an emotional punch. In such a context, the stately fatigue behind “Thinking Of You” seems deliberate, rather than age-related, what with a few spoken-word lines, whereas the jovial “What Goes Up” will indeed stay up – yet Paul Goldstein’s rockabilly beat under the life-affirming tune of “Yes I Do” renders the record’s ending as optimistic as one must need today…
…and tomorrow – for “Then & Now” clearly points to the bright future for this ensemble who bid farewell to their past here.