What could go wrong?
Justin Saladino’s first album in 2016 was called No Worries. The title of his second release, Fool’s Heart in 2018, may have been prescient. But we’re getting ahead of our story.
In 2018 The Justin Saladino Band was nominated for New Artists of the Year in Canada’s Maple Blues Awards. A year later Blues and Roots Radio awarded “Third Week of June” Song of the Year. The same year the group represented Quebec in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. By that time they’d played the Tremblant International Blues Festival on multiple occasions, plus The Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Ottawa BluesFest, and Festival d’Été de Québec. The group also showcased at the bi-annual all-Canadian Blues Summit held in Toronto and performed at Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea VII cruise sharing the stage with Jimmy Vivino, Keb’ Mo’, and Joe Bonamassa, himself. The icing on cake was a grant the Canadian government gives select artists to help advance their careers.
They were on a roll!
They put out a live record JSB Live including an electric take on Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” just as the pandemic shut down Canada. Saladino calls the pandemic a catch-22. “In the pandemic there was no momentum. You get a little bit comfortable. The pandemic for a lot of people was easy (stated) in air quotes because it wasn’t an easy time. You stay home and ok, you get 50% of what you make from the government. It’s a different life. I don’t really love it because I like to work for my money. There were no shows or no room to make new release, stuff like that, but the best thing I did was go through the grind finishing the next album, getting involved with (producer) Ariel (Posen). The studio we were involved with when we were allowed to record there was a huge time delay. We weren’t even allowed to meet for periods.”
That album Honest Lies finally releases September 16th. It’s a jewel. Like a watercolor painting of a beautiful spring day, a blue sky with cumulus clouds that create images in your mind punctuated by guitar riffs that rip through that sky like a rocket, a creative foray that defies genre descriptions. Saladino says he was inspired by Led Zeppelin.
“I can’t deny my Zeppelin influence. I spent every day in high school watching The Song Remains The Same movie while doing my homework. I can do any genre I want which is not always (best) from an industry perspective. I can play a 12-bar blues and people get like, ‘Oh, blues, cool. I really, really like that.’ But I also like the acoustic guitars at the same time and not necessarily a guitar solo but like the fingerpick folksy Americana that came a lot from Jimmy Page, that kind of Led Zeppelin is all over the map.”
I tell Justin that his nuance amid simplicity reminds me of Tom Petty, not Petty’s style but his ability to sprinkle powdered sugar on the otherwise simple arrangements. He’s an artiste of nuance.
“Thanks, man. That’s a huge compliment, and that’s a good way to put it. Petty is a pop artist, but by no stretch of the imagination is he not a pop artist. He’s a rock artist. His blues or blues rock or Americana in a lot of cases was undertone, but in a lot of cases not even undertone. This is a hard rock or this is an Americana tone.
“But at the end of the day, the value of the song really is in the songwriting. You can tell that it’s of great importance, and that’s also quite simply what I’m trying to do with the music is just a lot of value on the songwriting aspect, but it doesn’t feel like it’s too complex when you’re listening. You’re not necessarily trying to challenge people. I want the music to be listenable. I want people to be able to listen to the album in full, finish it and go, “I could listen to it again, and let’s restart it.”
Justin didn’t get a government grant for this album, and took out a loan for the first time to make it happen. Is he nervous or excited about the album’s imminent release? “I’m a bit of both. I want people to care about it. I want people to be excited about it – that it’s a step up from things I’ve done in the past. Connect in a real way. The reality is you just have to put it out and do your best. Ultimately, people will take it as they want to take it. You can promote it, and people will be ecstatic, or you can shove it down people’s throats, and they can take it or leave it, you know? So, there’s always a bit of nervousness there. What are people going to think? But I’m pretty confident. (There was) a lot of effort, 15 or 16 mix revisions. This may not always be a good thing, but we put our hearts and souls into it. I think people will pick up on that.”
American Blues Scene premiered the album’s first single “Sink Or Swim,” calling it “a clear harbinger of what’s to come for these musicians. The song boasts a delicious cornucopia of distinctive blues, roots, and Southern rock textures.”