Matt Mays ran a hand through his long brown hair and leaned in closer to the microphone.
He looked around at the 60 or so people gathered in a studio on the sixth floor of the CBC building. The crowd, gathered around him in a circle, was silent as they eagerly waited for the 38-year-old to address them.
Mays was sombre in his address — I forget the exact words he said — but it was the same day that the music world lost legend Tom Petty on Oct. 2 and a day after a deadly massacre at a country concert in Las Vegas.
I had noticed on his Facebook page a few days earlier that he was having a free show at the CBC to play a few songs from his new album Once Upon a Hell of a Time, which was released on Friday.
Once Upon a Hell of a Time is a 13-track, 53 minute long produced by Sonic Entertainment Group that coincides with a tour in late November.
Before I get into the songs from the new album, a little bit of background. I had heard about Mays’ music for quite a while as my big brother Patrick was a fan. I had only seen him live once in 2011 when he played for the Canada Games’ opening ceremony in his hometown of Halifax. My memory from the show is a little hazy due to one too many shots of Fireball, but it was still great.
Fast forward 6 1/2 years later and here we are at the CBC as Mays played for about an hour with a mix of new and old material. It was a great opportunity to see the rocker live and hear some of his new tunes.
I was immediately drawn to the song “Drive On” when I heard it live. It — like most of the new album — is very classic Mays and what drew fans to the artist in the first place. What I liked most about “Drive On” is that it struck me as a song that I could see myself cruising down the highways of P.E.I. listening to. It’s easy listening with a catchy beat, advanced by the solid contributions of the drummer.
The song’s bridge is also very well done, with a nice steady crescendo into an outro sung by Mays.
Another few songs that caught my ear were “Faint of Heart” and “NYC Girls.”
“Faint of Heart” had incredible guitar rifts throughout and, like “Drive On,” was extremely catchy. I would imagine that both will get significant air time on radio stations across Canada.
“NYC Girls” has great lyrics throughout and are performed well by Mays’ raspy, classic rock-n-roll style voice. Unfortunately for Mays, he told the audience in Toronto that the lyrics were based off of true events. Don’t worry, Matt. I had no luck on Tinder when I was in New York City last year, either.
Once Upon a Hell of Time is an impressive album from top to bottom from these East Coast rockers. I would expect it to get some Juno Award consideration. You can listen to the whole Album on Spotify, download links below.
Download: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon
Listen: Apple Music, BandCamp