New Music Review: Portage and Main – Portage and Main

With a band name such as Portage and Main, you’re forgiven to assume that the geographic location for the beginnings of said band would have been in Winnipeg, where this popular intersection of streets in the heart of the city is nearly iconic.  However, the alt-country, folk rock duo of John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly was formed in the heart of the damp, downtown Vancouver, far from the lazy prairie winds of Manitoba.

Why does this all of this matter?  As much as it has nothing to do with music, it actually does.  You see, when you listen to this ambitious, self-titled debut album by these two folk nomads (accompanied by Georges Couling on keys, Ben Brown on drums, and Mike Agranovich on bass), it may very well do for you what it did for me: conjure up images of long, dusty roads, wheat fields, meandering streams, rocky mountains and camp fires.  Much different than the concrete jungle of the greater Vancouver area, where, wheat fields and dusty roads are centuries past, and where this album was written.  It’s hard to ignore the nature aspect of the album with track titles such as I’d Never Climbed A Mountain and Rocky Mountain Wanderer, the latter of which lyrically paints a picturesque landscape quite poignantly, and effectively.  

As Portage and Main may very well be a reincarnation of The Band, or an embodiment of all that is Neil Young‘s Harvest Moon, they still have a musical approach that is without comparison.  For instance, the absolutely beautiful harmonizing on Song For My Mom, which features backing vocal harmonies by Redbird‘s Savannah Leigh Wellman, should not be subdued to comparison, for it is great enough to stand alone.  This isn’t the only song which features fantastic two and three part harmonies, truth be told.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a song lacking perfect harmonies on this album as they are all tight and nicely orchestrated.

Tight, beautiful harmonies are abundant, but so are great guitar licks.  In fact, (warning: another comparison, sorry!) Mr. Sponarski’s guitar tone and licks in What Have I Done are so Mark Knopfler-esque, it’s as admirable as it is enviable.  I don’t mean to take anything away from John’s guitar playing.  The opposite, actually.  Along with some lovely organ cascading in the background of this gem of a tune, What Have I Done is my favourite track on the album.  It’s followed by another twangy, riff-laden intro to The Morning After.  On only the third track of the album, Portage and Main have definitely gotten my attention.

The rambunctious Tonight Pt. 2 is a rockin’, uptempo tune that will not leave your foot untapped. Again, some phenomenal guitar playing and great harmonies.  And just incase you forgot where you should be when you listen to this song, the brief outro features only the crackling of a fire and the whistling of a boiling kettle.  Well done, gentlemen.  

The album closes off with yet another great song, called Carolina, that yet again features great guitar tones, lovely harmonies and a twangy, alt-country sound that wouldn’t be out of place on The Black Crowes’ masterpiece The Southern and Musical Companion.  

So, a word of advice: if you are going on a road-trip this summer, this is the CD to buy.  If you are going camping this summer, this is the CD to buy.  If you need to bone up on practicing your harmonies, this is the CD to buy.  This is a true piece of Canadiana rock, but don’t take my word for, listen for yourself here: and find out what I’m talking about.


~ by DR on April 16, 2011.

3 Responses to “New Music Review: Portage and Main – Portage and Main”

  1. Hey Dylan,
    I’m just wondering if it’s possible to submit albums to be reviewed to you.
    Been reading the blog and, well, have an album coming out in a couple months and if you liked it I thought it’d be kind of cool.


  2. Hi, I’ve been enjoying your CD which I received from my son Dave Walmsley. I find every song to be good and well recorded. Nice mix of acoustic and electric sound with tasteful pedal steel.
    Harold, I hope those nice grey slip on boat shoes are taking you places you never been to before.
    Good playing . If you come to Ontario I’d be stoked to come to a show.
    E Walmsley

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