Elliott Brood - Mountain Meadows (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Elliott Brood

Mountain Meadows (2008)

Six Shooter

Elliott Brood had the unfortunate luck of hooking me with what's become one of my favourite songs. "Oh Alberta" is, in purely academic terms, an awesome little ditty. It's a catchy banjo-driven ode to the provinces of Canada. It's campy, nonsensical and more fun than your most fondly remembered children's song. Everyone I've played it for loves it -- and it's pretty much completely out of character for this band. Elliott Brood is a three-piece from Toronto, an alt-country act for lack of a better term. The better term, by the way, is death country as far as the band is concerned. Seriously. Their last full-length was recorded in an abandoned slaughterhouse. This one is named after Utah's Mountain Meadows massacre. You can see what I'm working against when I throw on an Elliott Brood record looking for a good time.

Darkness for alt-country bands tends to be of the heartbroken, whiskey-soaked variety. This isn't quite that. Elliott Brood takes a more western Gothic approach, only without the theatrics. While the band has no problem hitting that mark on individual songs, an album of it can seem rather lifeless. The Ambassador LP, with its melancholy atmosphere and rustic qualities, was well-composed but not really all that much fun. I'm absolutely thrilled that Mountain Meadows, title and high concept aside, seems to have turned a corner. This record is an absolute blast, finding the perfect balance between the dark, (ahem) brooding balladry and upbeat, foot-stomping bluegrass. The band's acoustic approach trades off with more heavily orchestrated rock and roll. The album opens in this way, moving from the impassioned "Fingers and Tongues" to the spry instrumental "T-Bill."

On "Write It All Down for You," lively and perfectly placed backing vocals stand testament to Elliott Brood's growth as pop songwriters. The album takes a breezy and spacious turn with "The Valley Town," which wouldn't have felt out of place on the Acorn's opus Glory Hope Mountain. "The Body" is a sprawling tune with some nicely chosen guest vocals and a haunting close. Cementing how well-structured this record is, the quiet moment's chased with the stomping, shout-along barnburner "Miss You Now."

With Mountain Meadows, Mark Sasso, Casey LaForet and drummer Steve Pitkin have created a record that completely bridges the lively Tin Type EP and the sinister depths of Ambassador. They've reintroduced a sense of life and dynamism to their work while staying true to their lyrical and thematic outlook. Their acoustic roots are in full display but their sound isn't bogged down by nostalgia or revivalism. Four songs into Mountain Meadows, Elliott Brood croons "What are you down about?" After this effort? Not a heck of a lot.