John Cate

Never Lookin' Back

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"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 covers 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 on Cate's first four albums, there are no revelations; the John Cate Band creatively package things they like and present those things to the world with their own stamp, but their mission is not to reinvent rock & roll. 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 Mellencamp is spending too much time in front of the mirror, the John Cate Band attack 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, as the word starts off three of the 11 titles -- and there are 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 on-stage and teach something to these guys. As the aforementioned rock stars Cougar and Young do get indulgent, 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; it's remarkable how much the John Cate Band resemble this other group that Cate has worked closely with. "Down in the Hole" and "Never Was Enough" are 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 Souther. Not a bad formula to emulate, and a series of fine albums by both groups adds 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 Never Lookin' Back the album you need as the introduction if you've yet to encounter this ensemble.

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