We were hoping this day would come. When Jr. Gone Wild started to again play gigs sporadically in 2013, many of us became excited at the idea of a second chance.
Some of us of a particular age have long admired the Edmonton-based group from afar. As a university student during the band’s initial heyday, there really isn’t a good excuse for having missed the group the first time around. They played everywhere, and yet—I think the closest I came to experiencing them live was leaving prior to their set at a CJSR fundraiser. Looking back, as we got t-boned returning to our Whyte Avenue-adjacent apartment that eve, perhaps we should have stayed.
But a combination of Friday and Saturday evening shifts at the record store, full-time student course load, managing a still-young relationship, and not really having any friends similarly inclined to what may have been called ‘cow-punk’ in those days meant that Jr. Gone Wild pretty much passed me by. And then I moved north.
Regrets, I have many.
Over time I’ve caught up with their recorded output, although I continue to regret having sold off my Less Art, More Pop! vinyl: #NeverSellYourVinyl. Mike McDonald’s albums have also long been among my #CDsOnTheShelf, and I was more than a little chuffed to recognize him as a clerk in a couple of my favourite Whyte Avenue records shops over the years. Steve Loree was a frequent visitor to Red Deer during my exile in that fine city, and I was always pleased to see what he brought to town.
I had hoped to catch one of the reunion shows in recent years, but again—excuses: too far, too late, too tired, too old. Me, not JGW. Good thing then that Still Got The Jacket arrived in my in-box this autumn. A chance to not only relive a past previously missed, but to further embrace and appreciate these Canadian legends.
A single trickled out several years ago, “Barricades (The Hockey Riot Song,)” and is included here although my ears are not near acute enough to recognize if it has been re-recorded for inclusion. And more recently a Brave New Waves set from ’88 arrived and was quickly deemed by this listener and writer as close to essential.
As is Still Got the Jacket.
The fire still burns, the voices and rock ‘n’ roll guitars and vibes scorch, and the songs are fiery. Brilliant on all fronts. Call it rock, call it alt.country, brand it Americana: doesn’t matter. This is a great recording, one that embraces the history of a legacy band while accelerating it into a contemporary sound; well, contemporary for those of us who live more in the past, anyway.
Recorded during isolation without frills in Nanton, AB, songs like “Fool’s Errand,” “Old and Ugly,” and “Warren’s Van” immediately appeal. The album’s lead track and initial single “Girl in the Crowd” does similarly, with a terrific lead guitar run pulling it together over Quinton Herbert’s drumming; one presumes this is from Loree, but I am writing a bit blind without notes, so no guarantee. McDonald’s voice is so expressive here, yearning and yet coloured with wisdom: he’s been down this road before, one imagines, and it isn’t going to end well for anyone.
The flip side of the “Girl in the Crowd” digital single was a deadly, near note-for-note rendition of Chilliwack’s epic “Fly At Night;” given that the song’s co-writer Bill Henderson had produced Too Dumb to Quit, the inclusion of this Dreams, Dreams, Dreams radio classic makes a certain amount of sense. Henderson also contributes guitar to this appealing track.
Listening to this 50+ minute slice of Canadiana, one is repeatedly struck at how fresh and classic Still Got the Jacket sounds. “What Can You Do” and “Dodge” (“Hey, let’s go- get out of Dodge, there’s nothing to do, so not in a rush,” if my ears don’t deceive me is part of a refrain) could have been on any previous JGW set. And, for me, that is part of the joy of a long-ago favourite making a successful return: it is like they never left, and yet the music is new and the comfortable sound refreshed.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that things could always be worse,
I’m blessed I can complain about it using rhyme and verse;
Though witty couplets and similes can’t solve what’s up with you and me,
Life is hell and art is just a curse. “Five Million Songs” McDonald
“Five Million Songs” and “Cool for the Kids (Good Lookin’ for My Wife)” provide further evidence that the self-deprecation vibe remains strong within the quartet, which includes original members McDonald, Loree, and bassist Dave ‘Dove’ Brown. “Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be),” “What Can You Do,” and “Southern Cross” (courtesy of the Beat Farmers) sound made-to-order for my kinda radio stations, while “Chinook Arch” and “Behind the Wheel” take harder turns.
All-in-all, a very welcome and vibrant return for one of Edmonton’s, Alberta’s, and Canada’s best loved and remembered alternative powerhouses. Still Got the Jacket is not only a souvenir for what has been but a promise for that still to come.