Review- “Love You Baby”- The Good Hunters

reviewed by Michael Veenstra

Hamilton-based quartet The Good Hunters offer exactly what folk music is about with their debut Love You Baby. Recorded in Northern Ontario, largely outdoors, the band – brothers Joe and John Moran, bassist Ethan Rooney, and drummer Chris Stewart – offers up an incredibly mature and well-realized mixture of blues, bluegrass, folk, and old-time rock-n-roll for a group whose ages range from 18 all the way to the ripe old age of 22.

The band first became a Hamilton favorite because of their incredibly tight live act, and the first song on Love You Baby – “Go” – had been a staple for a long while before the album came out. When the record was finally released this past October, the re-imagining of the song from a straight-beat folk-rock tune to a bluesy, whimsical, and reflective song startled some people, myself included. “Go” is an excellent showcase of well-imagined songs played with a high degree of skill, however, and the new version is one of the highlights of the album.

“Tin Pan Blues”, the first single for the band, is another live staple. The song, like much of the album, is incredibly sentimental and longing, but not whiny. Joe Moran’s vocals soar throughout, John Moran showcases the talent of a much older man on guitar, banjo, piano, and a half-dozen other instruments, Ethan Rooney’s bass lines are interesting while still holding to the classic nature of the songs (he also laughs in the background a number of times, which helps the whole album remain folksy, self-produced feeling, and perfectly in balance in terms of production level), and Chris Stewart provides a steady backbone that each member of the band claims is the biggest reason their live shows are so well received.

“Nova Scotia” is a much slower, reflective song that really lets solid vocals and songwriting shine through. Written by the younger brother of the duo – John – and song by his brother and his mother, the sentimental value of the song alone would warm your heart – and the song is fantastic, blending delicate electric guitar, percussion and bass to near perfection.

“Jane and Avery” is another slow, reflective song that features some subtle background vocals, careful instrumentation, and exceptionally well-written lyrics. The song’s pace is careful and cautious, which lends itself to the soaring track that follows – “Crows”. A more traditional folk-rock, a la Don Maclean or The Band, the song continues to showcase the diverse talents of the band. There is an excellent Mandolin riff, handclaps (a must have, in my opinion), clever and skillful banjo, beautiful piano tone, and earnest and powerful vocals, making “Crows” another album highlight.

“What’s Left of Me” begins “I am just a boy no older than eighteen”, which – when one considers the high level of skill in songwriting and guitar playing – is a massive surprise. Producer and Recording Engineer Scott Orr – a fantastic folk singer-songwriter in his own right – does an excellent job of capturing the earnestness, simplicity and desire of a musician wishing to make a mark. While the band was recording in Northern Ontario, a documentary film crew followed them, interviewing the band, the recording team, friends and followers, who each offered their own sentiments about music and the band. When asked about why he writes music, and why make this record, John Moran flatly replies that if he doesn’t do it, he feels like he’ll die. “What’s Left of Me” is born out of that dramatic persona, and that desire to keep quality music alive – something it does a hundred times over.

“Among the Leaves” once again brings the tempo back down, showcasing more deft songwriting and clever instrumentation to highlight the strongest points of the song. Particularly nice is the string interlude that really gives the song a very Beatle-esque “Yesterday” feel.

“Don’t Get Me Wrong” – the title of the band’s Documentary, slated to be released in January of 2012 – was the first taste anyone really had of The Good Hunters. A pre-production demo of the song was included on a sampler album by Hamilton’s Other Songs Music Co. – Hamilton Music Award winner for Record Label of the Year, and major Mover and Shaker in the Hamilton Music Scene. (Check them out here). The song’s final banjo and bass breakdown has been a live show highlight that draws a fairly accurate comparison to Mumford and Sons. Hidden in all the ruckus and rumble of the song is the slower, more reflective section that tells a heartfelt story.

“Tel Aviv” boosts the tempo once again, relying on Joe Moran’s strong vocals to propel it forward, along with smooth piano and guitar work from John. There are a hundred thousand good things to say about this song – the harmonies are tight, the lyrics are catchy and the guitar solo has tone any player would kill for. After the 1950’s style solo, the key change rockets the song to another level, hitting you unexpectedly and making the song that much more memorable.

“Sunset and Clover” is the second-to last song on the album – a simple guitar and voices song with meaningful and well-crafted lyrics that you can’t help sing along with. John Moran’s vocals are crisp and clear, the harmonies are splendid, and the whole song flows beautifully to a chorus that sticks in your head. My only complaint about the song is its length, which is not near long enough for such a good song.

“Love You Baby”, the closing song of the album switches to a memorable 50’s style dance-hall waltz with vocals from both brothers, a standout bass line and simple but tasteful percussion. There is some string work in the title track that seems a bit superfluous, but there are also fantastic choir-style background vocals, pleasant piano, and all in all, an excellent close to the album’s musical portion. “On Man and Nature” features a reading of an excerpt from Thoreau over quiet and pleasant acoustic guitar work, winding the album down in an artful and tasteful way.

Especially when you consider this album is a debut, you can’t help but be startled and amazed. The songs consistently amaze your ears, you sing along, you listen over and over. The album, released in October, is available on iTunes, as well as on Bandcamp. The film made while they recorded the album is due for release in January of 2012

Top Tracks: “Go”; “What’s Left Of Me”; “Tel Aviv”; The whole album, basically.

Rating: Hunting Call + *swoop* (Excellent)

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