Elliot C. Way has been ubiquitous as the toastmaster to a certain quarter of Vancouver’s roots-rock scene for over a decade now. He’s such a cosmically magnetic figure that his own music with the Wild North has maybe been a little overlooked.
The band itself has been busy for almost as long as a denim-wrapped Wrecking Crew for Vancouver and points beyond. Keyboardist Matt Kelly and drummer Leon Power were both recently recruited into City and Colour. Guitarist John Sponarski tours with country artist Aaron Pritchett among others. Bassist Erik Nielsen sits in with everyone, everywhere.
Add to that an admirable commitment to a vintage form of downtime lifestyle debauchery—the kind you might have encountered in Texas circa ’73 or Vancouver before it went all artisanal ice cream and tech sector micro-dosing (lame)—and it comes as no surprise that it took over six years for the Wild North to finally put the finishing touches on its debut album.
Still: at long last, here it is—Welcome to...the Wild North—which is as good as you’d expect with Nielsen alongside Andy Bishop and Colin Stewart behind the dials, and with a band that’s grown from already great to even greater over those years of fitfully hitting the studio. The record’s sonic orientation is made crystal clear with opener “Even the Greats", which suggests a junk-sick John Cougar Mellencamp stealing from Neil Young, but with a heaviness that finally absorbs everything seven tracks later in the fabulously ominous “Fools Gold”.
It’s hard to single out a secret weapon here, although Kelly never demonstrates anything less than monster good taste (check the piano/organ conversation that runs through “Simple Romance”), and Sponarski bleeds casually wonderful guitar hooks all over the place, not least of all in the keening intro to “Let the Wheels Fall Off”. Eagles-calibre harmonies carry that one into its thrilling final minutes.
The biggest surprise might be the beefiness of Way’s vocals, presumably seasoned after periodic bouts of living in his van. It’s a rock record for sure, Nebraska-ish "Margaret" aside, and there’s at least one wink to the lighter moves of Band in “The World’s On Fire”. Check the clavinet murmur in the chorus—or maybe it's a jaw harp, or maybe it was telepathically embedded into the track directly from Way’s fever-boiled brain, which would be fitting for a record that seems to have emerged largely through sheer force of will.
The Wild North perform live on Saturday (November 2) at Neptoon Records