John & Sheila Ludgate – Northern Soul (Own Label)
A folk-roots duo from Burlington, Ontario, from this showing they would appear to be a kind of Canadian counterpart to the Kennedys. Northern Soul turns out to be their fourth CD release and contains 13 original songs by the couple, all loosely united by the theme of the journey home - whether that be a physical or spiritual place. The feel is upbeat and positive, even in the album's more wistful and reflective moments, and it's hard not to warm to the Ludgates' easygoing, breezy and companionable brand of folk-rock. The electric-acoustic blend harks back to the golden age of the 60s, although it's less jangly than the Kennedys, more akin to the sound of mid-period Beatles even, while it's updated to occasionally reference present-day Americana along the way.
The ancillary theme of change also pervades many of the songs, from the glistening metaphors of opening track Electric Guitars through to the conscious sense of inevitability informing One Thing's For Certain. Let's Just Say is a simple and sincere call for peace and love, while Canada itself is lovingly celebrated on the disc's title song (not Wigan!). A Candle For The Prodigal and Requiem For Love both deal movingly with loss in the context of the homeward quest (although, in common with some other songs, these could both arguably have benefitted from a stronger melody line). The pair of bonus tracks also enjoys a connection - this time a canine one.
The album's basic thematic unity is complemented by its consistent audio presence, which is achieved almost effortlessly it seems. The whole affair is in fact a Ludgate family production, a multi-generational exercise involving sons Anthony, Luke and Shane playing sundry electric and acoustic guitars and drums respectively (the only non-family member appearing is special guest David Lum, who contributes mandolin, slide and acoustic guitar on around half of the tracks). There's an honest power to John and Sheila's music-making which is both welcoming and appealing. (David Kidman)