“I don’t need your sympathy, ’cause I’m pushing 50,” declares Gary Hector, the singer and songwriter of jointpop, on Sweet Nothings, the first song and lead single on the rock and roll band’s impressive and hugely enjoyable new album, The Pot Hounds. Hector’s bracing confession serves to underscore his musical longevity: he’s a decades-long survivor of T&T’s rock scene, which on a good night can pack out a small club, and on a bad one doesn’t exist.
The Pot Hounds, jointpop’s fifth full-length release, finds the formidable quintet—Hector and co-founding lead guitarist Damon Homer, plus bass man Jerome Girdharrie, drummer Dion Camacho and soca refugee Phil Hill on the keyboards—continuing to mine the vintage-rock vein of their two excellent previous efforts, The Longest Kiss Goodnight and The January Transfer Window.
Specifically, the album is redolent of the 70s, though, thankfully, in the best sense: much more Bowie than Boston. (Anyone still hoping the band would have caught a vaps and returned to the calypso-rock hybridity of their 1996 debut, Port-of-Spain Style, back in the days when Andre Tanker jammed with them live and David Rudder showed up at their gigs, can stop reading now.)
Yet what is conspicuously absent here is the amps-up-to-11 noise-fest you’d expect from a regular rock and roll album. The exciting, punkish piss and vinegar of Treat Me like the Dog I Am—which could be about the inability to quit an abusive relationship as much as Hector and his band’s refusal to walk away from a thankless career—and the driving Dream Hard aside, The Pot Hounds works its subtle magic through compelling slow jams and mid-tempo workouts.
Sweet Nothings is a poignant pop gem built around a melody to die for. “Everything you’ve got they want,” Hector sings, his husky croon dripping with anguish and regret, “even if it’s nothing.” Paper Plane is a ballad to melt the hardest of hearts, the beautifully interwoven guitar and piano licks underpinning a promise to construct the titular flying vehicle “with just two seats, my love.”
Meanwhile the yearning and earnest Don’t Let It Slip is serious rock-and-roll-rent-a-tile business, the gorgeous acoustic riff and sublime keyboard flourishes of the intro and verses holding little hint of the rousing, electrifying bridge to come. “This is all I have, this is all I want” is the naked and unapologetic refrain. It’s the greatest moment on an album full of great moments.
Shifting gears, Dead Frog Perfume, jokey name aside, is a darkly majestic take on the murder ballad, its mysterious tale of illicit love drenched in Hill’s funereal organ and building to a frantic, genuinely thrilling climax. And Hill again shows off his impressive chops on the funky Superapple, the catchy piano grooves overlaying Camacho and Girdharrie’s taut, head-nodding rhythm, before giving way to Homer’s triumphant guitar solo.
This leads to the album’s handful of questionable notes. The anthem-like Let’s Pray (for Rock and Roll) and the tender The Water Supreme are fine songs, but they’re not new, having first appeared quite a few years ago on the jointpop EP. What they’re doing here, almost faithfully re-recorded, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
The inclusion of Let’s Pray—the band’s signature song, if they can be said to have one—is particularly puzzling, though there is an appealing frisson in hearing Hector intone anew the now sadly prophetic line “Let’s pray they don’t massacre the King of Pop.”
That said, anyone fortunate enough to be encountering jointpop for the first time through this album won’t much care about them recycling old tunes. What it will take to win over new fans, however, when local radio continues to virtually ignore the band’s existence and rock and roll remains pigeonholed here as white-people music remains anyone’s guess.
One thing is for certain: with the calendar at its end, The Pot Hounds is no less than the best T&T music made all year, and jointpop as brilliant a band as they’ve ever been. Treat them like dogs at your peril.