Although I had heard and enjoyed all of Elliott Brood’s albums, I did not transition to the level of passionate fan until we saw them live last December in London, ON. Their energetic performance really fired up my enjoyment of their music, and in the weeks since I’ve returned again and again to their fine albums. If you enjoy folk rock played brilliantly, and like songs that will have you up and dancing (or tapping your feet if outright dancing isn’t an option), you should definitely look up Elliott Brood.
The group’s first release was the 2004 EP “Tin Type.” The project is primarily acoustic, with Mark Sasso’s banjo prominently featured and Casey Laforet’s fabulous guitar at the forefront. “Oh, Alberta” is an especially enjoyable ode to several Canadian provinces (well, and North Dakota), while “Only at Home” begins with a guitar riff strongly reminiscent of acoustic Jimmy Page.
“Ambassador,” released in 2005, was the group’s first full-length album. The project opens with “Twill,” which immediately highlights two major additions to the band’s sound: the official inclusion of drummer/percussionist Stephen Pitkin, and the use of electric guitar. Both add even more depth and punch to a sound that was already quite deep and punchy – “Tin Type” is a fabulous album but I must admit that I also enjoy the more electric sounds that the group employs. “President (35)” is, to me, a great example of what has come to be a signature sound for the group: a strong, percussive beat with plenty of electric punch, but well anchored by banjo (and thus keeping the folk feel).
Elliott Brood in concert, Aeolian Hall, London, ON, 2 Dec. 2016
Elliott Brood’s next release, “Mountain Meadows” (2008), continues the group’s progression as a folk band with edge. (Some sites classify them as country, or even thrash country; I’m not sure I can agree.) As a ukulele fan, I was particularly happy to hear ukes used on both “Write It Down for You” and “The Valley Town.” (The crowd in London reacted really positively to the ukuleles as well, prompting the group to suggest that they should write more for uke – to which this fan in particular says, “Yes, please!”) “Without Again” opens with a terrific drum solo (reminiscent to me of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part Two,” of all things) but then is joined by banjo and harmonica.
I’m always hesitant to pick favorites, but 2012’s “Days Into Years” has to rank near the top for me. This project contains several songs that were among the first we heard by the group – notably, the up-tempo “Northern Air,” which shouldn’t fail to get your feet tapping. The project has a deeper context, however – apparently it was inspired by a trip to a military cemetery in France – and the lyrics tap a similarly deep well. “If I Get Old,” for example, is written from the perspective of someone who thinks it very likely that they will never get old: “What we’ve done has made us old / Left to die out in these frozen fields so far away from home / And if I live to see the end / I’m gonna make a brand new start / But I’ll never be the same again without my youthful heart.”
“Work and Love,” the most recent release (2014), is another terrific collection of punchy roots/folk songs, but with some new twists. (Note: all of Elliott Brood’s albums are terrific for lengthy car trips or commutes. I have yet to get cranky on my 2+ hour commute to work when playing EB.) “Nothing Left” is a swinging tune, while the opening of “Mission Bell” evokes (in M’s words) “cowboy hats, ponchos, cigars, and gunsmoke in the great tradition of a spaghetti Western” with its ringing bell and horns. “Jigsaw Heart” has a great beat with a terrific mandolin accompaniment mixed in among the guitar and drums.
Taken together, Elliott Brood’s body of work is a fantastic set of music that is endlessly enjoyable. I encourage you to try one or more of their albums – you will not be disappointed.