From Tim Horton to Mobsters to John Candy - Handheld Creates a Canadian Love Letter on New Album

4.8 out of 5 stars

The band Handheld is a skatepunk band from a smaller town in Ontario, Canada called Kitchener that plays like an internationally famous punk band (with ultra fast speed) from California or New Jersey.

They started out in the late 90s and members have come in and out of the lineup over the years, but the current band consists of Andy Dietrich - Lead Vocals (1998-Present), Craig Retzler - Guitar, Backing Vocals (1998-Present), Pat Dietrich - Drums, Backing Vocals (1998-Present), Rick Guerrero - Bass, Backing Vocals (2002-Present), and Joel Countryman - Guitar, Backing Vocals (2019-Present).

You may not find many bands that can keep up the pace with this band in any genre of rock, and this album will showcase all of those combined skills that have been formed over the past 20+ years.

Fast drum beats, raging guitars, silky smooth vocals, and incredible lyrics are just some of the buzzwords I would use to sum up their sound, but that only paints a small picture of the band and their music.

Their new album (which is their first since 2008's self-titled album) A Canadian Tragedy fits many of the songs as many (if not maybe all) of them detail famous Canadians who had demons and died early for various reasons.

The first song on the album, “Double Double DUI” details the extracurricular lifestyle of legendary ice hockey player and donut king Tim Horton. 

The song is great whether you know anything about the man or not, but it is really cool to hear some of the details of the player but also the drunk driving accident that caused Horton’s untimely death.

Next up on the album is the song “Leaving Candyland” which chronicles the life of John Candy from a fan’s perspective. You really get the sense of both the range of Candy himself AND of the band in this song.

The lines that detail the various characters and the reasons why so many people loved Candy so much really drive home the heart of the song:

“Too much booze and cigarettes
You were so much more than that
You were Gus, the Polka king of the Midwest
You were Josh, you loved coffee and sandwiches
You were Del, your shower rings would never bend
You were Barf, you were your own best friend
You were the best damn cheating bobsled coach to almost beat the Swiss…”

And later in the song…

“You were Buck, snow shovel flipping flapjacks
You were Wink, with your crazy sound effects
You were Irv, a coach turning over a new leaf
You were Chet, you ate a giant piece of beef..”

Any fan of John Candy will absolutely love this fitting tribute to a legendary comedian, and though the song isn’t exactly humorous, you will get a smile from the heartfelt soul behind the music and lyrics.

“On the Fly” is the first song on the album that is not about a famous celebrity or athlete, but it fits the theme of the album in the sense that we all have some regret about the decisions we make in life, but you can’t spend too much time dwelling on them. You just have to move forward and live your life “on the fly.”

It is a double meaning, because as drummer Patrick Dietrich mentions, it is about "fly fishing and dealing with inner struggles and death in your life."  

The song is just a fast pounding punk anthem in a lot of ways also. This whole album is full of songs like this. Just insanely good songs with well-written lyrics that could easily get over looked if someone was just to only pay attention to the music.

Next up is “Flip the Scrip” which I don’t know all the lyrics, but the song, as mentioned to me by the band, is about Peter “Scrip” Mitchell who was a gambler and mobster in Canada who met with a known mobster in a Niagara Falls hotel only to never be seen again.

All the songs could be punk versions of Dragonforce songs as they are so fast, so well done, so technically difficult that it is hard not to be blown away on every single song.

“School Is In Session” is about the practice of the Canadian government interning native and indigenous children in very terrible conditions that caused loads of deaths and turned an entire generation of children into mistreated youth separated from their families. To say the least, it was one of the biggest human rights violations in Canadian history.

Next up comes “Bend the Iron” which is about a railroad disaster in Quebec that killed over 40 people. The song features the Instagram influencer Emilie Plamondon a.k.a. Punk Roquette on backup vocals showing a true Canadian support system. The song is probably the fastest on the album and shortest at just under 2 minutes, but it slams all the way through and Plamondon does a good job of bringing the harmony.

“Group of Six” is actually an interesting song. From what I can tell it is about the painter Tom Thomson who was unofficially part of the “group of seven” Canadian painters who tragically died in a boating accident - or so the police report states anyway.

I had to go directly to the source to get a bit more information on a few of the songs including “Somewhere Over Kentucky.”

As drummer Patrick Dietrich says, the song is about a plane crash involving the singer Stan Rogers who ironically wrote a song about a ship that was "grounded and burned" only to suffer the same fate himself. Another fast paced, rocking song as well.

Now, I could be wrong, but the ONLY cover song on the album is actually “The Log Driver’s Waltz” which is based on a Canadian folksong written by Wade Hemsworth (not related to the Australian acting brothers as far as I know). 

Of course, when Handheld does a cover of a song, you are going to get a healthy dose of “this ain’t your grandma’s folk song” fast-paced punk rock in it as well. A great version of the classic.

So, for fans of the professional wrestling, especially from the 80s and 90s, you are going to love the song “Life of a Hitman” as it is a chronicle of the man, the myth, the Canadian wrestling legend, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Many of the references are strictly for fans of Hart, the Hart foundation, and the storylines and real life escapades of what happened to Bret Hart (and the people around him) throughout his career.

In a cool irony, the band got Hart to actually do a Cameo video to help promote the album upfront. Good on them.

The final song on the album is “Coming Home” which is the longest song on the album by over a minute, and it is very Millencollin in sound, for me (which is awesome, because I love those guys too). 

It’s a tribute to Canada, a.k.a The Great White North. The land that the band calls home.

It is also the only song on the record written and sang by the bassist Rick Guerrero. Dietrich mentioned that it is, "Dealing with his immigration to Canada from Nicaragua."

I didn’t know about all the stories that the songs were about until I did some research on my own, but I feel like if ANYONE else sees these stories and hears these songs and has the same inclination as I did to look more into these stories, I feel like the band will have accomplished the goal of telling interesting stories while making absolutely fantastic songs as well.

This is one of those albums that is undeniably excellent and any punk fan will thoroughly enjoy from start to finish.

As the Canucks up North might say, "This album is unreal, bud."

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