by Roman Mitz, Open Spaces
If you were playing name that band, it would take you about three seconds to identify the Good Brothers when listening to the first track of their brand new album ‘Wide Awake Dreamin’.’ That song, ‘No Help Wanted’, starts off with a catchy acoustic guitar riff, followed by some banjo and mandolin, and the familiar high and pure vocals that have become the band’s trademark over the years. Based on the freshness of the sound you would hardly think that the Goods have been at it for over 40 years or that the song itself is even older than that, although the scratchy 78 record effect at the beginning kind of gives it away.
“Yeah, you might say that it’s low fidelity,” Bruce Good laughs over the phone. “That song was written by another family group called The Carlisles back in the early fifties. Bill Carlisle wrote it and he and his son and daughter would perform it. It was part of our mother’s record collection and it was on an old 78 that she had. It was from her collection that I remember the song and when we recorded it we added that effect to reflect where the inspiration came from.”
No Help Wanted is one of the few songs on the album not written by Bruce and identical twin brother Brian. Younger brother Larry rounds out the original threesome whose debut album ‘The Good Brothers’ was released in 1975. If the sound has stayed consistent over the years, that’s exactly how the Goods want it is as they wish to stay loyal to the fan base that has supported them throughout. Bruce and Brian have developed a song writing formula that works for the band, even if they don’t always know what direction a song will take when they start the process.
“For the most part the songs are traditional country but there are a few that I would call contemporary folk,” Bruce says. “The first couple of tracks are really rootsy and we wanted to reach out to our long-time fans with something familiar sounding. When we begin writing Brian and I don’t always know whether a song will end up being more traditional, more country or more contemporary. We might come up with a hook but we don’t know where the song is going to go, but ultimately we let it take us there. A song like the second track on the album, ‘For Crying Out Loud’, came out as a real traditional song with lots of steel guitar. It really fit into my brother Larry’s wheelhouse as far as the vocals are concerned.”
While many of the new country songs you hear on radio these days feature thundering guitars and thudding bass lines, the Goods are just fine with their acoustic instruments, although they will on occasion add a drummer to their live set, especially to flesh out the new songs, most of which feature percussion. Bruce is a musical virtuoso who is known primarily for his trademark autoharp, but he also plays dobro and harmonica, keeping the acoustic sound at the core of the band’s music. This is not to say that he’s not aware of what’s hot on the charts, much of which is upbeat and electric. Bruce wears another hat as president of the Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) and he knows that the playing field is much bigger than it was before.
“There’s certainly no shortage of talent,” Bruce says. “There are a lot of kids out there playing really great music. Being part of the country music legacy it’s hard for me to completely understand where country music has gone today. That doesn’t mean the kids can’t play it because they play it very well. It’s just something I can’t play because I don’t completely grasp it. For us to try and do music like that today, I think that we would be dishonest with ourselves. I realize, however, that there is a great pool of talent out there and it’s being heard. I’m proud to be part of the CMAO, where we try and help those kids or at least try to introduce shortcuts into this business for them.”
What really separates the Good Brothers from the rest of the pack are their lyrics. They have always been a band that has a way with words, sounding off about the trials and tribulations of life. After being around for over four decades they’ve gathered a lot of ammunition to fuel their lyrics and the new album is perhaps their most reflective. The subject matter for the songs on the new release is broad as ‘One Of These Days’ deals with a person who has a gambling problem while ‘Yellow Crime Scene’ may be the Goods’ first, gasp, protest song.
“It’s true, we’ve learned a lot over the years, whether it’s about music or whether it’s about life,” he begins. “We’ve played casinos and an addiction that’s often overlooked is gambling, and we tried to shed some light on that with One Of These Days. The song about a guy who is addicted to gambling who is not home very often. When he’s down to his last dollar he usually finds the time to call home and ask his wife to send him a few bucks, which I guess makes her an enabler. That’s how the cycle goes.
“As far as Yellow Crime Scene goes, we kicked that one around because it was so negative. To me, when I hear it, all I can think about is the violence that guns bring to the world. I argued with my brother Brian because I call it a protest song but he doesn’t want to call it that, even though he was the catalyst in writing it. I told him there’s nothing wrong with writing a protest song because that’s what music was all about in the Sixties. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and others brought change to the world. I guess we’re on the cutting edge,” Bruce laughs, “The cutting edge of something old but something new.”
Lest fans fear that the Good Brothers songs are all filled with social commentary, most of the tunes are much smaller in scope and tend to stay closer to the type of domestic issues framed in old classics like “Unemployment”, which promoted the virtues of being a deadbeat. (“It’s funny you mention that one. I did a writers seminar with Charlie Major last week and he told me he loved that song and used to do it in his set. That blew my mind.”) On the new album’s ‘Honey Why’ we find a guy coming to grips with the stark reality that he may not be the perfect husband he envisioned himself as being. Stacy Heydon, a producer extraordinaire who also played guitar for David Bowie and Iggy Pop, heard the Goods perform the track live and he immediately took them into his California studio to record it. That started the ball rolling for this record, which really picks up speed with ‘Train Of Fools’ a high powered ditty about a love lost which brings back musical memories of ‘Orange Blossom Special’.
“That was another one that was perfect for Larry and his bluegrass style and banjo, and we simply let it rip. We’ve got fiddles, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and dobro all going on in that tune. It starts out kind of slow and then it really gets moving until you hear the old train putting on the brakes at the end. We were pleasantly surprised because we initially didn’t think it would make the album, but when we tried it, it seemed to work.”
Another standout on the album is ‘That Was Him (This Is Me)’ which Bruce wrote with Newfoundland’s Ron Hynes. The much loved folkie passed away in 2015 and the song’s inclusion is meant to pay tribute to him. Another cover song, ‘Rainbow’s End’, sounds like an Irish jig and it stuck in Bruce’s head after being played repeatedly during set breaks when the Goods took part in a festival in Nuremburg. Europe has always been good for the Good Brothers and they will be heading overseas again later in the year.
“We’re going over for a one-off to Switzerland and in late September we’re going on a three-week tour through Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria. But first here at home we have CD release shows in Toronto at the Dakota on March 31 and in Brampton at Spot One on April 1, then a few more shows in Southern Ontario, capped off by our appearance at the CMAO Awards at Centennial Hall in London. The actual awards show takes place on June 11, but it’s preceded by several days of activities and we will be appearing at the legacy show on June 8.”
Following all of this activity with his brothers, Bruce will have time to again turn his attention to his other musical project, The Good Family, in which he is joined by his wife Margaret, sons Travis and Dallas (who front The Sadies), brother Larry and niece Darcy. Bruce would also like to put together a definitive Goods Brother collection that would serve as a career defining compilation. It’s pretty amazing that the Good Brothers have lasted as long as they have without the major blow-outs that other brother acts like Oasis and The Kinks have experienced. For Bruce Good, as the new album title suggests, it has been a case of Wide Awake Dreamin’.
“I’m not saying we haven’t had blowouts but we’re pretty thick skinned and we’re pretty close,” he explains. “Thank goodness we’re doing a genre of music that we can perform for who knows how long. Here we are, senior citizens, and still making records. That in itself is a dream.”
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