As any talented musician and songwriter should, Jeff Plankenhorn has surrounded himself with good people. Just a minute or so into his brand new album Alone At Sea, it is very obvious that Plank and those responsible for his sound have exceedingly good taste and great ears.
This is Americana music, and I find the genre can be a downright miserable listening experience if one or both of these two cardinal sins are committed — bad production and cliches. Happily, this album has neither of those things. I was sent a vinyl test pressing and the sound is warm, spacious and full — produced by Colin Linden, known for his work with Bruce Cockburn, Blackie And The Rodeo Kings and more.
The instruments are well-mic’d and the arrangements are creative and thoughtful. Plank rose to prominence as a guitarist, particularly slide, on which he is immensely talented. He is also a very good vocalist, somewhere in the range of Jim Cuddy. But it is the construct and arrangement of these new songs which is most enjoyable. Plank applies guitar parts to his structure, rather than just having a guitar track. He successfully creates a rich, pastoral sound collage with accent parts — all overtop of a very classic and top-notch rhythm section. The drums are particularly refreshing, with lots of tom patterns rather than straight beats. The bass leads without being too busy. Lyrical without being distracting — and both are just so very well-recorded. Like, perfectly. Ear candy. They must have been so excited listening to the playback of this in the control room.
The title track is a lovely, spacious ballad. Almost country — one of three pre-album release singles, along with the more upbeat Do A Little Dancing and The Mess (not a cover of the Wings song, even though Plank had quite a bit of success with a 2021 cover of The Beatles’ Wait, from Rubber Soul. (Actually, it was a Help! reject which was the last song chosen for Rubber Soul because they needed one more track).
Do A Little Dancing has the vibe of a mellow ’70s drinking song. Jimmy Buffett territory. I can see it filling dancefloors in clubs. The band is tight on this and joined with a small sax/horn section for the chorus. I’m not sure who the drummer on the track is — he plays live with George Receli (from Bob Dylan’s band). Whoever it is, they’re awesome on this. Very catchy. There’s a lyric video for it, which is kind of funny because Plank is easy to understand.
The Mess is a self-deprecating track, tongue-in-cheek in the style of a murder ballad. Plank compares himself to a broken-down house. There’s some gorgeous cheesemaster organ throughout this one, and again the drummer is inspired and so very musical. The addition of organ in this one is significant, because Plank does switch up the instruments from track to track and isn’t afraid to try stuff from outside the usual Amicana playbook. Like, for example, the underwater-like backing vocals towards the end of The Mess. Any time you put an album like this on and you’re suddenly reminded of The Colony of Slippermen from Lamb Lies Down On Broadway — you know someone is being delightfully creative. Dig. I also like the throwback sleeve art depicting the artist with his back to the camera looking out from the shore (presumably Strathcona, B,C,?) with the song titles printed on the cover.
Plank is a busy man, playing around 150 shows a year. These days his schedule has him mostly Stateside — lots of Nashville and Austin shows. He’s an Austin TX native, but these days tries to call Vancouver Island home. He hasn’t got a hometown show booked until the new year, though.
Next year he’s hoping the strength of the new album will carry him to shows in Europe and Australia for the first time. Ironically, the long flights might just give him a needed break. But not only will this material transport Plank around the globe, it also takes the listener on a journey — one you’ll be pretty pleased with no matter what mood you’re in.
This is really good music, by exceptionally talented musicians working with a production team who know how to make incredible-sounding albums.”