For garage rock fans, New Hampshire’s The Connection are a band that needs no introduction. For everybody else, here’s the skinny: they’re much loved by Little Steven Van Zandt and get regular play on his Underground Garage radio show and they count Andrew Loog Oldham among their many fans. That seal of approval should be enough for the curious to take a listen, but more than that, these are musicians with a pedigree. The hardest working gang in the state, The Connection features Brad Marino (also of the New Trocaderos), Geoff Palmer, Craig Sala and Kris “Fingers” Rodgers (all of whom have served time as members of the Kurt Baker Band and Wimpy and the Madallions). Their music is retro, but often much friendlier on the ear than so many garage rock outfits, since they’re often keen to mix in a hefty dose of power pop, and on ‘Labor of Love’ – their second full-length – they’ve got choruses and musical hooks aplenty…
Delivering the purest of sixties homages, ‘Treat You So Bad’ works around a simple vocal and chiming guitar. A loving tip of the hat to the Stones circa 1969 with the rose-tinted haze of Flamin’ Groovies, Marino appears in fine voice and the appeal in the hook is pretty instant, but it’s the extra touches in the musical arrangement that really make it an instant Connection classic. In the left speaker channel, Rodgers delivers the best bar-room piano chops this side of Ian McLagan’s work with the Faces and the backing harmonies are naturalistic yet charming. That’s great and all, but it’s the punchy bridge section that’s the real killer. They’ve deliberately appropriated something that sounds like the intro to The Four Tops’ ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, thus allowing the drums to drop in with a great punch while Rodgers throws out an extra dose of piano melody. If you liked The Connection before, you’ll almost certainly love this.
‘Circles’ is another number that best represents The Connection’s collective ear for an incessant melody. The rough and ready guitar line is softened by rolling piano at the start, while moving into the verse, there are elements lifted from the first movement of US power pop – touches of Piper and The Scruffs here and there – all delivered in a sharp manner throughout. Atop the great music, a solid harmony hammers home a really infectious chorus. By the time they reach the fade, it’s obvious this is another of the best Connection tunes to date. In a change of mood, ‘Let The Jukebox Take Me’ harks back to the country-infused sounds on Palmer’s solo release ‘Don’t Stop’, Marino dropping into a slightly tongue in cheek drawling vocal to suit. Even with the arrival of steel guitar and a melancholy air, the Connection’s love for the Stones cuts through (their first EP already aped a Stones title), this tune comes across like a twisted homage to ‘Dead Flowers’ and ‘Dear Doctor’, but thankfully far less smug than the latter.
Going for something crashier, the title cut captures The Connection in full r ‘n’ r throttle, the combination of Marino and Palmer’s guitars out front and centre. Holding everything together, a frenetic bassline (overdubbed by Palmer) has a crisp sound with some busy qualities often audible, despite an even busier vocal attempting to dominate. From slightly scrappy Beach Boys-esque “woo”s through to classic power pop sneers – all culminating in a great call and response – everyone’s on fire. Tackling the mid-pace, ‘So Easy’ brings plenty of swaggering rock with a huge Stones influence throughout. While a simple chorus and vocal melody is set to be the most memorable element within such a no-nonsense arrangement, it’s worth keeping a keen ear on Palmer who uses the bulk of the remaining space to pay homage to Ron Wood with some fine slide guitar chops.
The weakest of the bunch – and weakest here being a relative concept, since in isolation it’s still fine enough – ‘Pathetic Kind of Man’ combines the retro pop of the New Trocs with the shimmer of the Flashcubes, resulting in a tune with a hefty retro twang. Extra musical embellishments come from a cool twelve string shimmer and a little rock ‘n’ roll piano, but lyrically, it’s not up to The Connection’s best, relying too heavily on sneering and repetition. It’s very much a case of great music that just deserved a better send off… Capturing the band at their most raucous, Marino’s hard guitar work leads everything into punkier territory during ‘Don’t Come Back’, a terrific hip-shaker that’s once again heavy on the twang. It may lack the subtle touches of a number like ‘Treat You So Bad’, but it really captures The Connection’s raw energies, especially when a ferocious lead break rolls around. This is definitely a tune pitched more at fans of Kurt Baker, but it doesn’t feel out of place.
On ‘Labor of Love’, The Connection always come across with maximum energy and throw in just enough variety so things never sound repetitive. Easily one of the best albums of 2015, the appeal in this gathering of musical friends is obvious from the outset – the only real complaint is that in delivering ten songs in barely half an hour, the show’s over much too soon…