“One Last Mile” gives a loud kick as the third album from John Cate, Never Lookin’ Back, opens with Searchers riffs and Ventures style guitars, the image of the four men coming down what looks like church steps on the front and back cover of the CD making for a mysterious movie-type photo. Cate does his best Dylan on “This Isn’t Goodbye”, the prolific songwriter playing with styles and sounds that make him happy. Going through the music over the artist’s first four albums there are no revelations – their mission is not to reinvent rock and roll, but The John Cate Band creatively packages things they like and present those things to the world with their own stamp.
The title track is compact and precise, and there’s no nonsense whatsoever. For those who feel Neil Young can get too cutesy, or that John Cougar Mellancamp is spending too much time in front of the mirror, John Cate Band attacks the material with the drive of perfectionists looking for an intangible refined sound like the surfers in The Endless Summer were seeking the perfect wave.
“Never Lookin’ Back” has that exciting, explosive guitar work generated from slamming the tunes out night after night in bar after bar. “Never Love Again” opens up with more anger, it seems someone never told Cate to never say never, the word starting off three of the eleven titles with more negative contractions like “won’t” and “can’t” in other song titles. “Never Love Again” has the thumping authority of Bob Seger’s “Fire Down Below”, but what’s needed is Bette Midler to jump onstage and molest these guys. As the aforementioned rock stars Cougar and Neil Young do get indulgent, John Cate and his group need to lighten up. They are as serious as a judge, where a little touch of sly humor would really bring this material home. “Can’t Let Go” comes across as perhaps the album’s strongest track, and it is up there with the best of The Swinging Steaks, remarkable how much this act resembles a group they/he works closely with. “Down In The Hole” and “Never Was Enough” also in that pop vein with a country twang.
This is almost like Boston’s version of The Eagles and J.D. Souther with The Swinging Steaks being The Eagles and Cate being J.D. Not a bad formula to emulate, and a series of fine albums by both groups which add a dimension to New England’s vibrant music scene, a dimension that deserves more attention. “Everything Is Love” and “You Won’t See Me” are more driving pop / original music from the pen of Gian S. Caterine and his John Cate Band, essential songs that make this the album you need as the introduction if you’ve yet to encounter this ensemble.
– Joe Viglione