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
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