One Hundred Dollars – ‘Songs of Man’

Review by Chris Hampton

Yes, Toronto’s One Hundred Dollars manage a typically rural sound, despite their distinctly urban home base. And yes, the band approaches country music unlike caricaturists or ironists, but with a genuine reverence for the form. These are no longer the stories to be told about One Hundred Dollars. Now, at the release of their sophomore album, Songs of Man, the real interest is how OHD does country differently – how a contemporary perspective in both the music and lyrics, makes an old tradition engaging to new audiences.

On Songs of Man, Simone Schmidt is the primary yarn-spinner, though the whole band helps tell the stories – the guitars of Paul Mortimer and Ian Russell punctuate and intone, Crookes’ pedal steel stands in for both smiles and sobs, and the rhythm section (Dave Clarke on drums, Kyle Porter on bass) drives the narrative forward. At full-mast, Simone comes close to a Tammy Wynette or maybe Dolly, belting out sorrowful ditties with a character of strength and onwardness (like on ‘Fires of Regret’ and ‘Black Gold’). Most often though, Simone sounds tender and meek in a way that brings Will Oldham to mind.

Track one on Songs of Man, ‘Ties That Bind,’ has me thinking of the stringy filmscores of Ennio Morricone, now replete with electric noise and due reverb, but quickly rockets north, regionally-speaking, erupting into shuffling snare and a nice bass quarter-note-chug, while the guitars noodle and weep. Simone bursts over top with a tale about leaving town vs. settling down, an oft explored theme in the country canon, however, brownstone apartments, front lawn sprinkler-play, and a wife gone by cancer lend a new landscape to old wisdom. This is the sort of just-playful-enough pastiche that makes One Hundred Dollars both charming and relevant.

My favourites from the album are ‘Aaron’s Song,’ on which Simone gives her voice to the perspective of a man who’s unable to communicate verbally, and ‘Where the Sparrows Drop,’ one of the tunes that One Hundred Dollars performed for Southern Souls.

Songs of Man comes out May 10th on Outside Music. See them May 13th at The Great Hall in Toronto for their record release.