Album Review: Chantal Kreviazuk – Under These Rocks and Stones (1996)

Sometimes in life you just stumble across something totally by accident and it goes on to become something very significant. That, I suppose, is what people mean when they refer to fate. If that is the case then fate is good for me. At least it was way back in 1996 when I discovered Chantal Kreviazuk, totally by accident, whilst trying to track down some Burton Cummings solo albums on a Canadian website. The accidental pressing of a mouse button hovering over the cover of this album in the new release section resulting in me ending up hearing a snippet from “Under These Rocks and Stones” and subsequently ordering it. A decision which was made all the easier by the extremely favourable exchange rate at the time if I remember rightly.

“Under These Rocks and Stones” is Chantal Kreviazuk’s first album and hit the Canadian streets (and websites !) in October 1996. America had to wait until the following March, hence the continual confusion on actual release dates created by some publications that seem to think American release dates are the only ones that matter ! The American issue also jigged around with the running order a little and omitted the final track.

Recorded at Conway and A & M Studios in California and produced superbly by Peter Asher and Matt Wallace this album is much harder and more angst ridden than Chantal’s later releases. It is still packed full of beautiful intricate melodies though and manages to display a gentleness and vulnerability alongside the energy and controlled anger that was so fashionable in the female singer/songwriter of the time.

Opening track ‘God Made Me’ explodes from the speakers with a nice riff before the vocal comes in as the song slows a little before building up once again to a powerful chorus. It certainly makes you sit up and take notice. Chantal displaying a nice balance of power and clarity with some great almost rock like backing from some talented musicians. The track ends abrubtly leaving you almost dazed from the sheer unexpected power of it. Second track ‘Surrounded’ is the one that really kick started Chantal’s career. Despite the anti war lyric hampering radio play for a while it was still a big hit. It starts with a nice understated piano before, like the opener, it builds up into a more powerful chorus. However, this is in more of a pop style than the more rock like opener. ‘Don’t Be Good’ is a nice piano led pop tune that is almost a precurser to the hit ‘Before You’ from the second album. The anger is back for ‘Believer’ in which Chantal tells us … ” I carry my microphone with me everywhere I go, it makes for a very good dead weight in case of an emergency. In case I need to break your face ….”, not something you would expect after the gentle piano intro. The track is basically a rock track and I would suggest it is probably the rockiest recording of Chantal’s career. The next track ‘Grace’ is in total contrast however and is the first of the more traditional piano led singer/songwriter pleas for love. It has a beautiful vocal and a wonderful melody that just brings a smile to the stoniest of faces. ‘Wayne’ is another song that highlights Chantal’s lyric writing ability and again builds up nicely into a powerful chorus. The bridge/middle eight displays her piano playing ability as well as providing the imaginative title for the album itself. Like ‘Surrounded’ it employs a nice string arrangement. ‘Imaginary Friend’ which was moved to be the final track on the American issue has a slow melancholy vocal over some more impressive concert piano. Once again the lyrics are far deeper and more thought provoking than on many albums of this kind.

The second half of the album starts with another fast paced rocker in the form of ‘Hands’ which includes some nice B-3 Organ from Ed Staslum. Personally I would have made this the opening track. Again it has a marvellous hook and quickly gets into your subconscious. The backing vocal from Al Lay is also perfectly mixed in by Asher and Wallace to give just enough of an effect. There are many, myself included, who would have liked to see Chantal continue to record some tracks in this more powerful style on her later albums. Again the lyrics are well above average. ‘Disagree’ features more strings from Novi Novog and Stefanie Fife on cello and Robin Lorentz on the violin and whilst not the best track on offer here is still above average. ‘Co-Dependent’ sees Chantal delivering another angrier vocal but in a more staccato style than on the previous tracks. The rhyme of phoney and baloney another nice touch. Despite all the power and angst the absolute standout song for me is the truly wonderful ‘Green Apples’. A heartfelt love songs it starts with a simple electric piano solo before Chantal delivers an absolutely perfect vocal. If it doesn’t bring a lump to your throat and make you long to have your own green apple and to be someone elses you are probably beyond help. Chantal’s voice is packed with feeling throughout. Perfect is an understatement. ‘Boot’ returns us to a harder sound, at least in the musical passages and lyrically takes on the subject of domestic abuse without holding any punches. Chantal’s voice lacks nothing as the song builds to a powerful middle section and ending. The final track on the main issue, for some reason left of the American version, is ‘Actions Without Love’ a more jazzy type track featuring just Chantal on vocal and piano. It appears to have been recorded live and in truth doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album so that may have led to its omission.

It wouldn’t be right to end the review without mentioning the quality musicianship on the album either. As well as those mentioned already Chris Burke-Gaffney contributes some great guitar to compliment Chantal’s voice and piano playing. He also wrote ‘Hands’ and ‘Co-Dependent’ as well as co-writing a couple of other tracks. Chantal wrote or co-wrote all the other tracks on the album except for those two. Bass duties were carried out by Davy Faragher who also provided the backing vocals on ‘God Made Me’. The very powerful drums came from Michael Urbano whilst David Immergluck made valuable contributions on pedal steel and mandolin as well as guitar.

‘Under These Rocks and Stones” has over the last decade or so become one of my most played albums. It is certainly in my top ten of all time and is my favourite album by a female singer. Some albums just get under your skin and become something extremely special. This for me is one of them and I would recommend it to anyone. In fact it is so good that if you buy it and don’t like it you can send it to me and I’ll give you your money back !

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM January 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
This entry was posted in Album Reviews, Music, Music Reviews, Pop, Rock, Singer/Songwriter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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