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Martin Aston on Three To One

Namedrop Joel Plaskett to a Brit and they’ll doubtless look blank. Yet the Nova Scotian’s mantelpiece groans under a weight of awards – Best Adult Alternative at Canada’s music industry awards, twice nominated for their equivalent to the Mercury Prize, Best Solo Male at the Indie Awards, six wins at this year’s East Coast Music Awards. Okay, perhaps they do things differently in North North America, and they’ve far fewer artists to nominate – but still, this is a songwriter with a reputation. So why hasn’t that reputation travelled?

Well, consider the lot of guitar rock, or power pop; genres so rooted in unfashionable retrograde white boy culture that not even Teenage Fanclub can get arrested these days. After leading the grungy Thrush Hermit into obscurity through the 1990s, Plaskett, or rather the Joel Plaskett Emergency, returned as a sterling Big Star wannabe in 2001, relocating 1960s Brit-beat to a Canadian outpost edged by small-town desperation and longing. Nowadays, with a more flexible backing band, Plaskett is more flexible himself, though he has wisely reduced his recent triple album Three to a single CD to convince any non-Canucks.

Three to One’s overriding feel is still south of the Mason-Dixie line but closer to Tom Petty’s crunchy, jaunty gait – opening duo Deny, Deny, Deny and Through & Through & Through (Joel’s clearly got the ‘three’ theme bad) are instant proof. Both, beguilingly, mention the Berlin Wall. In the latter, it’s “I’m a Berlin wall, I’m a communist / you’re a wrecking ball in a summer dress,” a great couplet in irrepressibly pop-gumbo form. New Scotland Blues (acoustic folk) and Wishful Thinking (foot-tapping country) underline the album’s breezy charm. But Plaskett possesses more maverick tendencies (You Let Me Down combines pedal steel, plinky drum machine and playful boy/girl vocals) and the key to unlock more troubled desires. Safe in Your Arms is a slice of downbeat velvet (Eels fans, take note) and All the Way Down the Line is equally mired in elegant regret.

But it’s Run, Run, Run that shows real awards-winning mettle, a slow rock-soul glimmer pitched nearer Big Star mode that suddenly shifts gear for an elated second half. He wouldn’t win any prizes in the UK but this track would sound epic blazing out of a car window on the way to a festival, say. But such behaviour, as well as the music, isn’t fashionable, remember? Well, Plaskett doesn’t care, and neither should we.