On first glance at the front cover of Hope Dies Last, one could be excused for wondering if Steve Marriner’s new solo album might be a complete departure from the raucous and righteous sounds he’s been whipping up with his MonkeyJunk bandmates for more than a decade now.

Before the shrink wrap is even peeled back and discarded, the cover photo of Marriner perched on stool with an acoustic guitar on his lap suggest that he’s gone full folkie or acoustic Americana for this session.

And given that Marriner did perform a few select dates playing acoustic guitars and rack harp a couple of summers ago, it could lead a few fans to believe Hope Dies Last is an extension of that pre-pandemic solo swing.

Not so, and not even close.

This ten-song set is a Roots-Rock recording through and through. Material, the majority of which is original, drills deeply into territory that sonically is driven by hard hitting rhythms for a couple of turns, before sliding to more melodically layered and instrumentally coloured pieces that expand the canvas on which he has previously worked.

On Take Me To The City, the album opener, Marriner and crew hammer home a firm percussive groove that provides a comfort zone and musical continuity for any follower and fan of MonkeyJunk.

Next up is Tom Petty’s Honey Bee, one of two songs from outside the Marriner canon. It is a terrific choice for an intense yet controlled vocal that sits on top of an edgy instrumental gumbo that sizzles and spits with its direct simplicity.

But with repeated listens, it is the songs with nuance and a variety of colours that begin to take ownership of this set.

Enlisting his long-time friend Samantha Martin on the heartbreaking ballad Enough was a great call. Tattered and tired emotions are doubled down on thanks to knock out vocals by Martin who nails her portion of  the lead vocal in every facet of the performance.

Uptown Lockdown is a funky and slippery instrumental with a foundation provided by a New Orleans groove that gives a joyful and inspired nod to The Meters. The core crew of Marriner, drummer Glenn Milchem, keyboard ace Jesse O’Brien, guitarist Jim Bowskill and the bass playing Darcy Yates dig a masterful deep trench of a groove while giving the piece ample room to breathe and shimmer.

Petite Danse, again Louisiana inspired, is built on the Francophone lyrics that gave Roxanne Potvin a co-write credit. Somebody get this cool groove number to the new edition of Little Feat as this takes aim at that great group’s wheelhouse, while coming up with a bullseye.

Tasty pedal steel and cool shadow vocals on Somethin’ Somethin’, Chris Caddell’s slide guitar and Marriner’s gritty harp on Hear My Heart are a few more examples of colouring that perfectly accent a turn of a phrase or put an exclamation point on a chorus.

Only on the last number, the Kelly Prescott penned Long Way Down, does Marriner sit on that stool with his acoustic guitar and rack harp. He settles into a stark, image laden story song of angst, loneliness, and addiction coated with empathy, all bound by what may be Marriner’s finest vocal on the set. (Peter North)