By Mike Dunn
As a fixture in the Edmonton roots scene for two decades, Darrek Anderson of The Guaranteed has been the pedal steel player of choice for some of the city’s most influential underground acts. Having spent time with Old Reliable, The Swiftys, The City Streets, and Eamon McGrath, Anderson’s steel playing has featured on countless releases and tours. Now a member of The Dungarees, Anderson has put together an excellent EP of alt-country songs, his first release since 2007’s Places You Used To Go.
The Guaranteed forgoes the currently common expressive masculinity of modern country for a more laidback feel, trekking to the higher emotional ground of acts like Jason Isbell, expressively honest in Anderson’s softly sung tenor with a plaintive Jeff Tweedy feel. “Rest Easy” leads off with a classic roadhouse guitar riff from Nathan McMurdo over a Waylon-phased rhythm guitar, and rather than aim for explosive choruses, Anderson and the band settle into an easy groove driven by the chill touch of drummer Bradford Tebble that suggests wizened confidence; more content to sit back and play together than to show you any or all of their cards at once. The steel and electric guitar interplay on “Hear From You” is classy in its understatement, and the harmony vocal on the hook is a high point of country melody on the album. There’s a lengthy swell over a well-placed “Duck” Dunn bass riff from Tom Murray that begs for just a bit more instrumental harmony, though it would sound less like a live group with that kitchen sink thrown in. Anderson wisely resists the urge to inflect a vocal drawl suggesting he’s from anywhere but where he is, and the EP’s high water mark for writing, “Sinew & Bone,” lays back into Nebraska territory with only Anderson’s acoustic and a hummed melody line in a sympathetic harmony with Dungarees mate James Murdoch.
The Guaranteed’s honesty is revealed more through ambiguity than just a black-and-white reading of heartache, going for gravitas over grandeur. Its spare production is the work of a confident group of players who know exactly what needs to be played, and that filling every empty space often removes emphasis from what needs to be heard.Independent, Record Review, The Guaranteed, The Guaranteed EP