It’s fitting that the first song on Northumberland’s self-titled debut album is called “Never Too Old.” As a celebration of rock and roll’s timeless appeal, it leaves a powerful first impression of a band of musical veterans drawn together to create something new out of their shared love of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Drive-By Truckers, Lucero, and others who have shaped the sound of no-frills, blue collar American rock.
But if the band’s name doesn’t provide an immediate clue, the four members of Northumberland hail from the wilds of Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast, where life can be just as hard as anywhere in the American Midwest. Such stories have always inspired Northumberland’s singer/guitarist Corey Matheson, and on the album he treats us to 10 tales of hard-bitten characters struggling to stay one step ahead of past decisions that will forever haunt them.
Produced and mixed by Matheson at Chimney Hill Studios in Truro, NS, Northumberland is the culmination of two solid years of work since the band’s formation, with all the songs road-tested on their modest but growing touring circuit.
Corey explained, “I have always been a writer first and have been writing songs since junior high. When the pandemic hit, I found myself writing a lot more. And while I have material I perform solo that might fall into the singer-songwriter genre, the songs on this album were written with the band in mind.”
The origins of Northumberland actually trace back to the friendship that Corey and guitarist David Dean have shared since their school days, just as bassist Bruce White served as their school’s music teacher. Bruce, in fact, had a big influence on the pair, introducing them to the Beatles, the Allman Brothers and other classic rockers. However, by the mid-1980s, Corey was drawn to the emerging alternative rock scene and co-founded the band Haggis, which released its only album, Last Drag, in 1996 before splitting the following year.
Corey then moved to Toronto where he joined the band Driveway in 2001 and fully embraced the alternative country movement, recording two albums with that group for Curve Records before they split up. Back in Nova Scotia in 2008, Corey scaled back his musical activities, but in 2017 he was persuaded to join a Tom Petty tribute band – following Petty’s untimely death – that included Bruce White and drummer Jim Fulmore. With no shows to play in 2020, Corey recorded a solo album under the pseudonym Gus Corey, and when clubs re-opened, his eagerness to play original material again prompted him to reconnect with David Dean and enlist Bruce and Jim to form Northumberland. It’s been full steam ahead ever since.
The songs on Northumberland reflect a lot of this history, with “Drunk On Monday” offering a glimpse of Corey’s hardscrabble days in Toronto, while “1969,” “Shooting The Drag” and “Mud On My Shoes” paint vivid coming-of-age-in-Nova-Scotia portraits. With his simple and direct use of language, Corey proves to be a master storyteller. And with the band providing dynamic support, it results in Northumberland being an album that gets to the heart of the matter without any distractions along the way.
The overall message? Indeed, no one is ever too old to make great rock and roll.