Stephen is quite a productive artist, as Groove Atlantic-O is already his eleventh full-length album. This one, however, is a bit of a concept work. It’s a collection of new tunes dedicated to the Atlantic, or at the minimum, it looks toward this oceanic symbol for “love and romance energy.” The album even features a school of fish on its cover. It sounds great, too, because Steve Albini (famous for his work with Nirvana, The Pixies and others) engineered it. It’s a folk-ish-rock effort, without a single sea chantey within view.
Jacques sings these ten songs with a gruff, weathered vocal tone. This sound gives extra credence to his lyrics, as he sounds like a guy that’s lived a memorable life. His voice also sounds a lot like you’d expect an experienced sailor to sound like. When he sings about experiencing the Atlantic, we believe him.
These tracks follow relatively straightforward, basic rock grooves. For instance, “He Got Religion,” a spiritual-esque recording, rolls to a gentle rhythm. It’s a combination of acoustic guitar and electric guitar, over an unhurried, semi-gentle sonic vibe. Atop it, Jacques sings its words a little like Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) might do it. It’s not an especially pretty sound. Jacques isn’t attempting to croon this, and the other songs on the album. Instead, he sounds like an honest observer.
One titled “Queen Bee Gone,” is a number where Jacques nearly whispers its words. It’s a dark, harsh recollection song. Over a plodding rhythm, light percussion and simple guitar fills accompany Jacques. Many of these observations/songs may remind you of a less grizzled Tom Waits. Tom Waits, of course, sounds like all of the many cigarettes he’s smoked over the years. He doesn’t so much sing, as growl out his lyrics. Jacques appears to be on that same sonic career path. However, he has a far more melodic tone in his singing. In some cases, as on “Dining With Horses,” he speaks his words as much as sings them. This all adds up to an especially conversational approach to presenting his songs.
One can well imagine Jacques telling these stories over a few beers at the bar. He has a vivid memory, with great attention to detail. He also loves to tell good stories. In fact, one can also picture him playing his songs – perhaps with nothing more than an acoustic guitar – in some bar or other. Of course, his singing of “Dinning With Horses,” might pale in comparison to this recorded version, which also includes some lovely, nimble acoustic guitar plucking.
Stephen Jacques is likely the last of a breed. One of those musical storytellers that loves to create songs that sound like books — comprised of story narratives. He’s not going to tell you pretty little lies through his songs. Instead, he’s going to mostly present the unvarnished truth. So, no, this album is no day at the beach, despite its seaworthy title. Nevertheless, it’s certainly well worth all your close attention. The Atlantic is endlessly fascinating, and this set of songs adds even more to that oceanic lore.