A Vivascene Feature Review by Brian Miller

Vivascene rating 8.5
Purchase on iTunes USA Never Had the Time – Portage and Main

Purchase on iTunes Canada Never Had the Time – Portage and Main

Stellar is the only word for Never Had The Time, the new album by the Vancouver based folk-rock band who call themselves Portage and Main, a phrase that also conjures up the coldest street corner in Canada, some fifteen hundred miles to the east in Winterpeg, Manitoba. We were privileged to receive an advance copy, as the album isn’t being released until January 22nd, and we can tell you this straight off: the band’s music is anything but cold, displaying as it does outstanding musicianship and a warmth and breadth that is frankly stunning.

The opener is the upbeat title track, and if you scroll down below you’ll hear and see why these boys just might the best thing to come out of the Pacific Northwest since Fleet Foxes. They play harder, are less pedantic and shall we say, less precious. Delicious songwriting, the dreamiest pedal steel these ears have heard in several years, and the chops both to rock it and folk it out are their hallmarks. But the final two numbers, “This Old Heart” with its daring song construction that feels utterly natural (no mean feat) and the grand love ballad “It Is You” signal the arrival of a terrific group who really and truly have it together.

Never Had The Time builds upon the impressive beginning of their self-titled debut album. “It’s certainly not a big step in a different direction,” says John Sponarski about the new record. “We’re taking the strongest ideas that took shape on the first album and further honing in on that sound.” Harold Donnelly and John share harmony on several tracks, while taking alternate lead on others. “We try not to think of it as two individual voices, but rather two parts to one voice,” Sponarski offers. “It’s not his song or my song; these are our songs.”

The group has recently expanded to a quintet, and now includes Georges Couling on keys and Sponarski’s childhood friends Dave Gens and Ben Appenheimer on drums and bass, respectively. Couling also serves as producer and engineer on this immaculate recording, just as he did on their previous outing. The group has a cohesive, scintillating sound that at times is heavy with reverb, but always drenched with atmosphere.

Yes, they harken back to Blue Rodeo and Wilco and The Band, and even to 70s groups like The Byrds, Pure Prairie League and Byron Berline’s Sundance, but they have a current sensibility about them that is disarmingly honest- and to use an overworked but apt description, fresh. There hasn’t been a better breakup song than their “Good Morning Sunshine” written by anyone recently, at least not with the heartbroken bravado this number displays. And while several of the songs on this record emanate from that middle ground of trying to appeal both to country and folk audiences, their musical and lyrical sentiments appear real. These guys are singing convincingly about life, about love, and about what it means to be a man these days. And as for their guitar work, it is superb.

Portage & Main will be touring widely in 2013 and a cross-Canada tour will soon be announced. Their CD release launch will take place in Vancouver on January 25th at the Biltmore Cabaret.