A few years ago, I had the immensely lucky fortune to convince a certain summer camp here in the Kootenays that I should be trusted to help run day-to-day operations, including up to 80 screaming kids (angels, every one of them…), and a full staff of teenage counsellors. Of course, as I’m sure you know, when comparing looking after the basic needs and emotions of 80 children with 20 adolescents, the children were a piece of cake.
One of those counsellors was a young man who, either in a moment of exhaustion-fueled delirium, or as a brilliant, forward-thinking fashion choice, gallantly shaved his big, curly hair into a prime, shining cul de sac. Yep, bald in the center, long on the sides. Now, as many of you would imagine, this earned my full respect. A few years later, this young fellow, Angus Liedtke, is playing banjo/guitar/harmonica in one of Canada’s most exciting and meteoric young bands, The Good Ol’ Goats. The Goats were most recently runner-up in CBC’s cross-Canada Searchlight competition, and winner of Artist of the Year at this year’s Kootenay Music Awards (a big freaking deal!). As such, even if I wanted to, I could never bad-mouth a man who once sported a cul de sac. It would go against my code. The code of the cul de sac. It’s a thing.
The Good Ol’ Goats – The Train
Which brings us to The Good Ol’ Goats’ self-released debut, The Train, a fun, folksy-rockish, full-tilt barrelroll of chugging banjo, hard-strummed guitars, and blasted harmonicas. This six-piece band of 16- and 17-year olds from Cranbrook has managed to attract some pretty potent talent, in terms of basic musicianship and song-writing.
One of their chief strengths is that at any given time on the album, even during a few moments on the ballads (listen to the rattling pound of those drums in the deceptively soft “In Autumn,” for example), each member of the band has their adrenaline level cranked up to a solid Spinal Tap 11 — if Spinal Tap dressed in vintage three-piece landowner suits and rugged ranch-hand overalls and called themselves Ye Spinal Faucet. Listen to the rocking opener “Kiss The Cactus” and try to imagine any member of the band not totally givin’ er at any moment. With less convincing groups, this all-out approach might appear indulgent, but everything about the Goats screams (literally, sometimes) youthful exuberance. Each time you think that one part of the song, be it banjo, guitar, harmonica, or vocals might be a little high in the mix, it immediately becomes apparent that every other part is pushing that limit too, and nailing it in just the right place. Lead vocalist Nolan Ackert has an impressive snarl (very Elliott Broodish) that, at times, sounds like its coming from someone much older.
Speaking of Older, the Goats aren’t afraid to be a little tongue-in-cheek when it comes to both their music and their aesthetic. From their rickety-ol band name to their antiquated song titles and subject matter, the Goats clearly have a fascination with the old, the mystical, the expired. Shipwrecks and mountain men and farmers and sailors all inhabit their musical fantasies. But then, in the penultimate song on the album, “The Night Before,” they turn this aesthetic on its head, revealing themselves as the goofy, young, talented teens that they are. The yearning, lovelorn sailor of “Shipwrecked” is suddenly none other than Sailor Jerry, everybody’s favourite cheap spiced rum, making a (definitely) bootlegged appearance at somebody’s (definitely) unsupervised house party. It’s quite a clever little turn-around for the band, and I never thought that a lyric about Sailor Jerry could be clever.
My only recommendation for their next album is that they recruit some of the goats from the “Goats Yelling Like Humans” youtube clip to harmonize with back-up vocalist and melodionist, Alysha Seriani. Now THAT would be something.
Eli is a Nelson-based writer, art instructor and musician. He blogs at eligeddis.com.