Over the last decade it’s felt like far too many bands have been falling over themselves to follow the acoustic folk meets gritty rock and roll trail blazed by the likes of The Gaslight Anthem, Chuck Ragan and Dave Hause. Sadly few of these bands ever hit the levels of those they’re looking to mould themselves after. But the odd one gets it just right. Case in point here being folk-rockers Northcote, an outfit led by Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Goud.
As well as releasing two highly promising full-lengths the band have put in some serious miles on the road, including spells touring with the genre’s biggest names mentioned above. If any further nods to their quality were needed Northcote also happen to call Xtra Mile Records home. The label has long been the hallmark of any great acts even vaguely crossing the lines of folk, punk and rock simultaneously. The big question that raises being can Northcote’s third studio offering ‘Hope Is Made Of Steel’ live up to the high standards of its label mates?
It doesn’t take long to answer that question with a fairly resounding yes. ‘This Is Our Time’ dives straight in with breezy acoustic guitars and Goud’s honeyed but faintly rasping tones, before ticking all the boxes of a great folk punk song. An aspirational story, strings and harmonicas drifting in and out and a big uplifting gang harmony. Yup they’re all there. It’s literally taken one song to show that Goud and his band mates have really honed their sound of driving electric rock and roll and Americana laced through with rustic folk and bluegrass.
‘Small Town Dreams’ sees the fare getting even better, expanding on the band’s impressively strong eye for narrative focus and storytelling in their lyrics, while bringing the rock components of their sound to the fore on a stomping feel good number that gives more than the occasional nod to a certain Mr Springsteen. Next up title track ‘Hope Is Made Of Steel’ makes an early bid to be the best of the songs on offer. It’s another really strong folk rock chorus with a simple yet memorable refrain that shows off the warm, soulful husk to the vocals well, while the verses and bridge weave in bluegrass undertones to great effect adding a rounded genre merging feel to the song.
Proceedings get a little more low key on ‘Leaving Wyoming’ a reflective vocal focused number with more impressive narrative building that even Brian Fallon would be proud of. Stirring Gaelic tinged violins add scale and occasion to the simple solitary acoustic guitar line before the vocals swell wonderfully into the final chorus.
‘You Could Never Let Me Down’ and ‘Just Kids’ both exhibit an ability to pull off the higher energy rockier numbers just well as the simple tender acoustic ones. The former packing some great musicianship with a really sweet interchange between guitar solo and strings and the latter nosing proceedings slightly, but nonetheless discernibly in the direction of stadium rock.
One of the things that Northcote do really well is giving telling nods to their influences without ever sounding like a lazy rip off, taking the picks of their elements and subtly tweaking the tried and tested folk-rock crossover formula to make it all feel entirely their own. Even if they never sound exactly reinventing the wheel for the style and genre.
‘Hope Is Made Of Steel’ resonates with a genuine and believable sense of optimism and belief for change, without ever resorting to excessive levels of crushing sentiment, tired metaphors or faux downtrodden folk nostalgia. Here the importance of storytelling and big memorable choruses are king, and that normally proves a recipe for success. In particular fans of The Gaslight Anthem should be lapping this release right up.
‘Hope Is Made Of Steel’ by Northcote is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright)