You can be forgiven for wanting a genealogy map to sort out the membership of The Good Family. When the sprawling collaboration with the tight familial sound released their aptly named The Good Family Album today, it marked the historical transcription of two generations of Canadian country royalty into a single sonic landmark. All family sing-alongs should sound this good.
The Good Family is comprised of Bruce and Larry Good (two-thirds of the veteran bluegrass and country folk purveyors, The Good Brothers) and Bruce's sons Travis and Dallas (half of the beloved psych-rock alt-country pioneers, The Sadies). Joining in are Margaret Good (Bruce's wife, Travis and Dallas' mother), niece and cousin D'Arcy Good, and the rest of The Sadies – Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky, who comprise the rhythm section.
The Good Family Album takes a largely traditional approach to ten tracks of country ballads and bluegrass romps. Set aside are the more citified alt-country sensibilities often embraced by The Sadies, who instead use their musical chops to show deference to the sound of their parents' generation. Sorrowful done-me-wrong songs nestle up to breakneck bluegrass numbers, with the occasional folk rock ballad thrown in for good measure.
The album itself is largely egalitarian project, with various family members sharing lead vocal duties. Margaret (who has sung on both Good Brothers and Sadies recordings, and whose resume includes two seasons on the TV show Ronnie Prophet's Grand Old Country, as well as backup duties for a legion of big-name country stars) is a real standout, lending a feeling of bygone Opry days to songs like “Paradise” and “Same Old Song”. She has both the restraint and the emotional range to make her numbers highly nuanced.
Although D'Arcy Good takes over vocal duties on the lead track “Coal Black Hills” and on the dark “Leaf in a Storm”, she is at her best when wielding her fiddle like a crazed weapon. “Outside of Saskatoon” is one of those tracks in which fiddle battles banjo in a bluegrass mad dash. It's the sort of sound that immediately catapults you back to the days when The Good Brothers were the darlings of agricultural college barn dances. You just know that “Outside of Saskatoon” is destined to become the unofficial anthem of the University of Saskatchewan Agros come the fall.
All the tracks on The Good Family Album were written by the family, but they do get a little assistance from some musical friends, with Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor co-writing a couple of the songs (including the lovely “Paradise”), and the album was also mixed by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies to add yet another stamp of Canadiana.
The final track is a gloriously rollicking instrumental, cheekily entitled “Instantmental Breakdown”. It's a closer that showcases the deep musicality of this first family of Canadian country royalty, and a number that makes you wish you were watching the band perform it live. The Good Family Album is an instant piece of classic Canadiana well worth adding to your collection.