Les Gruff and the Billy Goat

For fans of:Hayes Carll, The Bottle Rockets, Uncle Tupelo, Drive-By-Truckers, Whiskeytown

Though the album packaging may be minimal by design, the songs of STL’s Les Gruff and the Billy Goat are far from it. The sextet, whose wheelhouse is mostly country and Americana/roots genres, presents some admirably rich arrangements on their sophomore album, without making the tunes feel excessive or contrived.

The [self-titled] album is bookended by two serious toe-tappers: the leading track, with its catchy, simple call-and-response refrain, and the barn-burner “Two-Steppin’ into Sin.” Full as the arrangements are (how could they not be with a half-dozen band members?), they remain tasteful throughout. Sure, the band plays country, but it’s not too twangy. Sean Kamery (fiddle) and Dylan Duke (mandolin) are consistently solid on both solos and laying back and supporting the rest of the group. Their parts aren’t overkill — they’re just elaborate enough, expertly placed and executed. Tony Compton (electric guitar, keys, vocals) complements Billy Croghan (guitar, lead vocals) both vocally and on his various instruments. The rhythm section, with Dave Roach on bass and Scotti Iman on drums, holds it down throughout as well. While the danceable numbers are thoroughly enjoyable, the violin-piano-mandolin slow waltz “Evil Dancers” is a particularly strong standout. Croghan’s vocals even have a decidedly un-country hint of Michael Stipe to them, a trait unique to this song in particular. Lyrically, Croghan is both nostalgic and happy, while still maintaining just enough personal turmoil to keep it from being too happy to be country music.

Sure, it ain’t dead dogs and old trucks (though a tractor does appear in “Shiny Chevy”), but as someone who’s not a hardcore country music fan per se, I really dug the album. It’s more like the old days of country made new again, as opposed to the commercialized hits of so-called “new country” music. And that is something I can two-step to, y’all.

-Suzie Gilb, Eleven Magazine