Four releases into their musical career, you might expect it would be easy to plot the band’s progress since their ’16, 5-track release, No Worries. You’d be wrong. The Justin Saladino Band revealed a mature grasp of their talents right out of the gates and, while live records can often uncover a band’s greatest strengths or limitations – 2020’s JSB Live quickly registered this ‘young band’ as every bit as musically astute and seasoned as road warriors twice their age. Nominated at the Maple Blues Awards as New Artist Of The Year back in ’18, the band has since gone on to reveal a varied palette of musical genres, of which blues is only mildly represented here. Saladino, himself, is a double threat, sporting a confident, somewhat chameleonic, baritone voice which forms the centrepiece of each carefully-constructed song. Add to this Saladino’s head-turning guitar skills – a tone-friendly master of whatever influence he’s mining. The third key tool in theband’s musical arsenal is the chemistry between his chosen players, blending in key instruments which fully flesh out the sounds they’re striving for, nailing each and every composition to a tight, unified conclusion. Their influences seem all over the map but Honest Lies is clearly a guitar-driven album which also adds a surprising hint of southern soul through Saladino’s clearly-recorded vocals. The threesome of Saladino and his ultra-tight rhythm section of drummer, Denis Paquin and bassist, Gabriel Forget are adept at amping up equal parts rock and pop, if not moving the band closer towards a harder-edged jam band sound, triggered by the extreme muscle teased by Saladino’s guitar. Dependent upon each song’s needs, piano and B3 is added, together with the radiant use of backup vocals from Melissa Pacifico, Courtney Fox, Brittany Kennell and (producer) Ariel Posen. 

Leading off with one of their most powerful tracks – “Sink Or Swim” – the bar is set high for the next nine originals. A distinctive, guitar-driven track with crisply-recorded drums, a strong, pop-like vocal from Saladino, some scorching guitar leads, it’s leavened by sturdy backup vocals. With an underbelly of slide, “Let You Go” builds slowly with a gentle electric guitar before busting out with angry, soaring leads and the sweet barrage of their backup singers. “Blind Faith” has its moments but falls victim to its confusing construction – less a song than a vehicle for lyrics. Enter “Fan The Flames”, with its tough rock attack, double-tracked vocals, buttery backup voices, vicious guitar and satisfying finish – another key track. The title track suffers from a chorus which inadvertently and unintentionally conjures Kim Mitchell’s “I Am A Wild Party”, All is forgotten with the bewitching “Won’t Say No”, which dials up the funk factor as the band’s skin-tight rhythm section and backup singers hit a memorable home run. Changing gears with the acoustic-guitar-led “Half-heartedly”,  Saladino borders on country with a gentle vocal, stellar piano (Gabriel Gagnon) and lush backup singers. “Let Me In Again” demonstrates a stand-out blend of lead and backup vocals over an atmospheric build that stretches its legs with some dramatic guitar breaks that quits too soon. “Can’t Have You Around” starts strong with tough guitar and some quality B3 before getting a bit lost in an overly smart arrangement, leaving the listener without anything to cling to. The gentle intro to “Don’t Worry ‘bout It” moves from acoustic guitar to outstanding percussion from Paquin and a honeyed bed of backup vocals for yet another album highlight – on a record mostly filled with them. These guys literally drip with potential. Their mastery over their instruments and the creativity applied to their music leaves one unable to classify them. Three power players and their nectarous backup singers can do no wrong, while Saladino’s vocals seem able to take the band anywhere. Special attention is given to lyrics but the songcraft could lean on stronger hooks to help deliver the message. All-in-all, Honest Lies is a close-to-perfect recording and this Montreal-based band has barely begun. (Eric Thom)