The Salt Collective: Life [Album Review]

The Salt Collective
Propeller Sound Recordings [2023]

The Fire Note headphone approved

It would be easy on an album featuring a so-called “supergroup” collaboration, with so many established indie/rock artists listed as participants, to lose track of the original songwriters and the actual songs themselves. So to begin at the beginning, Salt is a Paris-based trio that includes primary songwriter Stephane Schuck, and the rhythm section of Benoit Lautridou and Fred Quentin, which can be heard playing on half the tracks here. Schuck’s states-side partner and producer is Chris Stamey, of the dB’s, who tapped his old band’s rhythm section—bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby—to play on the remaining half dozen tracks. Then, Stamey took Schuck’s songs and paired them up with a bunch of his musical artist friends to deliver a strong collection of the jangly guitar rock and power/pop that taps all the appropriate retro vibes, yet is as fresh as the day is long.

The album opens with the chiming guitars and snappy rhythm of “Asylum,” with vocals by Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and harmonies by Julianna Hatfield. Hatfield sings lead on the driving guitar rock of “Where the Wild Things Are,” fueled by the crunchy, dynamic guitar soloing of Richard Lloyd of Television. And on and on it goes, a veritable indie/rock who’s who, all lead by Stamey who appears on a half dozen tracks. He and Wilco sideman Pat Sansone sing and play on “Not Going Back,” he shares vocals with Faith Jones on “Throwing Stones,” closes out the album with two tracks, “I Knew You So Well,” which includes cello and additional strings, the bright, fast power pop of “Making It Up As We Go Along.”

Then “Nursery Rhyme” feels like a full dB’s reunion with Peter Holsapple singing with Stamey while Matt Douglas’ flutes and saxes float in and out while Holsapple plays lead guitar. Holsapple takes the lead on “The Pebble In My Hand,” and Matt Caws is back again on “Another Bus Coming” with Let’s Active’s Mitch Easter joining in, and again some lovely violin and strings. Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills and the Continental Drifters adds her voice to the swamp rock vibe of “Spacewalk 2068,” while Matthew Sweet serves up the guitar rock of “Dream Inside Me,” and Anton Barbeau brings his psychedelic vibe to “A Piece of Candy.” 

But aside from all the indie/rock star-power and great guitar playing, the thing that sets Life by The Salt Collective at the top of the pack is the consistently great, entertaining songwriting. If you want to study the whole jangly guitar approach to power-pop, with smart, catchy vocal harmonies each track of the 12 here explores this immediately recognizable approach from a fresh angle. And song after song connects, big time.

“Asylum” / “Nursery Rhyme” / “Not Going Back”

The dB’s / XTC / The Jayhawks

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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