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Alternative/Punk

Sam Roberts Band

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"Whoever said you can't be saved by a song?" Sam Roberts asks on "Uprising Down Under," an elegiac track from his band's new album, Chemical City "Whoever said that was stringing you along." It's...

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"Whoever said you can't be saved by a song?" Sam Roberts asks on "Uprising Down Under," an elegiac track from his band's new album, Chemical City "Whoever said that was stringing you along." It's a bold assertion, but it's not the first time Roberts has put himself on the line, worn his heart on his sleeve and tackled apathy head on. His band's debut album, We Were Born in a Flame, was an uncompromising collection of songs about love, faith, compassion, struggle and transcendence, on which Roberts made his now-famous declaration that he'd die for rock 'n' roll. This was no empty boast. On consecutive hit singles, including "Brother Down," "Don't Walk Away Eileen" and "Where Have All the Good People Gone?," the Montreal musician proved his unwavering dedication to passionate power-pop, mystical folk and wildly uninhibited psychedelic rock. Even critics with high-powered bullshit detectors proclaimed him the real deal. With Chemical City, Roberts and his band have delivered a follow-up more visceral, less polished and yet, paradoxically, more ambitious than their best-selling, Juno-winning debut. "I didn't write a lot going into it," explains Roberts. "With the last record, it felt like I had every lick and note figured out beforehand. With this one, I just wanted to leave it open to our imagination and for there to be a sense of immediacy and urgency to the whole record." To get his creative juices flowing, Roberts traveled to Holland and parts of Africa, including Mauritius and his parents' native South Africa. While holidaying in Australia, he found a renovated old Presbyterian church in rural New South Wales, near Byron Bay, and decided it was the perfect place-secluded and remote-to record the new album. Joining him in Oz were band mates Dave Nugent (lead guitar), Eric Fares (keyboards), James Hall (bass) and Billy Anthopoulos (drums). Co-producer Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, The Tragically Hip) arrived with all the necessary recording equipment. And the camaraderie, reminiscent of The Band holed up in Big Pink in the late 1960s, brought an unmistakable warmth to the album. Recalls Roberts: "We lived and ate our meals together in the church, spent our mornings at the beach and came back in the afternoon to get down to work. It was all pretty idyllic." The recording was later completed in Montreal, with Roberts' high-school buddy turned producer-engineer Joseph Donovan (The Dears, The High Dials) taking over the controls and drummer Josh Trager joining the crew. But a large part of the album, especially its rich organ sound, was clearly inspired by the Australian church setting, The Band (and its keyboard wizard Garth Hudson) or both. Real or surreal, quest or crusade, Chemical City brings this band of relentless road warriors back to fight the good fight against cynicism and complacency. Resistance is futile, salvation assured. Whoever said you can't be saved by a song clearly wasn't familiar with the music of Sam Roberts.