The New Mendicants - Into the Lime
Reassuringly familiar alt-country collaboration from Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Joe Pernice
(One Little Indian)
The year’s finest new band from Canada who aren’t Canadian at all, The New Mendicants are a collaboration between Norman Blake (a Scot) of Teenage Fanclub, Joe Pernice (an American) of The Pernice Brothers, and sometime drummer for the Pernices Mike Belisky. Only the third member is Canadian, but all three currently live in Toronto, which is where this collaboration came together as a result of Blake and Pernice’s 13-year friendship, stretching all the way back to the night the latter supported the former in London in 2000.
Those familiar with either Blake or Pernice’s work won’t find their expectations greatly challenged here. The record opens on ‘Sarasota’, a few swaying minutes of lighters-up alt-country built around the 70s-purloined mantra ‘It’s free’, before the rather lovely seasonal offering ‘A Very Sorry Christmas’, whose title and key lyric ‘I’m carrying a cross you won’t believe’ belie a breezily bittersweet song about redemption that’s founded upon Blake’s chiming slide guitar.
The Byrds are unavoidably a key influence here, although there’s a jaunty beat group bounce to ‘Cruel Annette’, with the core duo spreading harmonies like honey over their imagined shared lover. There’s plenty of wistful, cantering balladry too, including their own ‘Follow You Down’, ‘If Only You Knew Her’ and a cover of late Fairport Convention chanteuse Sandy Denny’s ‘By the Time It Gets Dark’.
Sonic invention’s certainly not the order of these ten tracks, but between them Blake and Pernice conjure something lower-key but just as lasting, an old-fashioned songwriter partnership that rests upon the delightful symmetry of their similarly toned but distinctive vocals as much as their way with a lyric and a resonantly expressed emotion. To their credit, just when you think it’s all getting a bit mellow, they have the wit to blow our expectations out of the water with the fuzz-toned psych and seemingly freeform vocal associations of closer ‘Lifelike Hair’, a highlight here.