Wyckham Porteous,
(Cordova Bay, 2001)

What a wonderful album this is. Tremendously satisfying and self-assured, SexandDrinking is a breath of fresh air wrapped up in a rather unassuming package. Wyckham Porteous was one of those names I'd heard before in Canadian music circles, but I wasn't really sure who he was. Thanks to this album, I know. And I wish more people knew him.

It's easy to find artists to compare him to, but it's important to note that his own voice is distinctively his own. I was reminded of Bruce Springsteen, John Hiatt and Tom Waits particularly -- with a bit of Bob Dylan and Greg Brown thrown in for good measure. I was surprised to discover he has won "Best Folk Artist" award because this is an unabashedly rock 'n' roll album. Then again, no matter how fine a performer he is, Porteous is primarily a songwriter, and every one of these songs would stand up just fine with a guitar and a voice.

The album starts off with a gamble: the six-minute tragi-comic improvised bit of brilliance, "SexandDrinking," which tells the story of a drunken murder in London. It's a masterpiece of manic energy and inspired lyrics: "I started walking towards the embassy/I don't remember if it was Ireland or the ecstasy," and "where tranny poets yelled obscene love songs in rhyming couplets/before beating their hearts with a pool cue." It's weird, dark and funny and like nothing else on the album. No matter.

Every other song is great. It's hard to pick a favourite. The second cut, "Feel Alright," is a euphoric pop anthem. "Get Happy" is a powerful statement about being grateful for what you have (and presumably Porteous has had his share of hard times as an artist). "The First Time" is a Springsteen-esque bittersweet remembrance of an affair. "Louisiana" is a dark and moody blues rock tune. "Ophelia" and "Fall So Deep" are beautiful, sweet and subtle love songs. "Amsterdam" is another great song with an absolutely killer chorus. Although each song is distinctive, and there's a range of mid-tempo, ballad and upbeat material here, all of the songs have strong melodies, hooks, clear and distinctive lyrics. And they are all brimming with honesty.

Porteous's voice is rich and fine and expressive. He is supported by an excellent band, "guiltyassin," consisting of John Ellis on guitars, Pat Steward on drums and percussion, Rob Becker on bass and Dyhan Roberts on vocals. You can tell everyone's having a good time. Porteous produced the album with John Ellis at Magic Lab Studios in Vancouver, B.C. In his liner notes, he says the people at Magic Lab "have restored my faith in the goodness of music." Lucky for us they did.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 18 January 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.