Home Read Albums Of The Week: Jr. Gone Wild | Still Got The Jacket

Albums Of The Week: Jr. Gone Wild | Still Got The Jacket

The indie alt-country heroes pick up where they left off on their first LP in 25 years.

© Marc J Chalifoux Photography © Marc J Chalifoux Photography

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “In the early ‘90s, a new genre of music called “alt-country” suddenly appeared in order to describe artists who drew inspiration from traditional sources, but whose sounds were still infused with the power of modern rock ’n’ roll. It was indeed a game changer for many bands, especially those who had, in fact, been “alt-country” long before the term was coined.

Yet, it was something Mike McDonald couldn’t see coming when, in 1983, he formed Jr. Gone Wild in Edmonton. As a budding singer-songwriter who didn’t feel comfortable within the hardcore punk scene many of his friends had been drawn into, McDonald was instead obsessed with Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps and its diametrically opposed fusion of heart-wrenching acoustic balladry and scorched-earth guitar rock. For the next 12 years, Jr. Gone Wild — in its various lineups — would hone its own version of this approach on albums that have become cornerstones of Canadian alt-country: Less Art, More Pop!, Folk You, Too Dumb To Quit, Pull The Goalie and Simple Little Wish.

However, no band can sustain such a winning streak, especially after countless gruelling cross-Canada tours. By 1995, McDonald was ready to try life as a solo artist and focus on his family, while the legend of Jr. Gone Wild just kept growing over the ensuing years. Finally, in 2013, McDonald, lead guitarist Steve Loree, bassist Dave “Dove” Brown and drummer Larry Shelast agreed to do a run of reunion shows which left them all feeling like Jr. Gone Wild could rise again. More shows took place, and new songs slowly took shape for a potential new album until everything came to a halt in late 2019 when Shelast died from a heart attack. For a tribute show to Shelast a couple of months later, the band enlisted McDonald’s nephew Quinton Herbert to man the kit, and his ease at filling the role made it clear that Jr. Gone Wild’s first album in over 25 years would ultimately be finished. And here we are.

Simply put, Jr. Gone Wild’s Still Got The Jacket is everything longtime fans could hope for. Hearing the twangy power pop of Dodge and Girl In The Crowd, it’s as if no time has passed, while the raucous energy that fuelled so many beer-soaked nights still glows brightly on Him Or Me and Old And Ugly.
McDonald says, “When we reunited in 2013, I had no idea we’d be making another album. What was supposed to be a one-off gig turned into a revival, and the more we interacted with each other, the more we got back into the old routines, and inevitably new songs started to pop up. Steve started pressuring me to write faster, as he continued to bring songs in, and we constantly harassed Dove to bring something in, because you cannot have a Jr. Gone Wild album without a Dove song on it.”

McDonald adds, “Usually a band will have a long list of potential album songs, and part of the process is paring that down into a cohesive album. Having been through that process many times, I decided to skip it entirely, and only bring in songs I was 100 per cent committed to. That’s the main reason the album took so long to finish.”

By the summer of 2020, the band was fully ensconced in Loree’s studio in Nanton, Alberta, pounding out the album’s 16 tracks. The predominance of rockers on Still Got The Jacket suggests the quartet had something to prove, but at each song’s core is a chemistry that couldn’t have been created through anything other than hard-earned experience.

Being the new guy, Herbert had a unique perspective as the recording process unfolded. “Growing up I heard a lot of stories about Jr. Gone Wild — yelling matches in the studio, near-death experiences on the road, getting so sick of each other that everyone had to look down while they were playing so someone wouldn’t end up unconscious on stage. I was a little worried about stepping into the studio after hearing all of that my whole life. When we got into it, it was understood between all of us that we were there to make the best record we could. I was astounded there weren’t any major arguments, and everything went quite smoothly.”

In Loree’s estimation, “The band hasn’t evolved too far from its starting point. I think if anything we are getting back to The Byrds influence and being more melodic.” Things on Still Got The Jacket come full circle in a more tangible way as well with the album’s spot-on cover of the Chilliwack classic Fly At Night. Chilliwack founder Bill Henderson had produced Too Dumb To Quit and was more than happy to return to the Jr. Gone Wild fold by contributing some new guitar parts to one of his most-beloved songs.

There are many of Jr. Gone Wild’s own songs that should be part of the CanRock pantheon as well, although once fans start devouring Still Got The Jacket, the material on it may very well come to be regarded as the best work they’ve ever done. Mark Twain once famously said, “Politicians, old buildings and prostitutes become respectable with age.” He never got a chance to consider whether rock ’n’ roll musicians do as well, although if given the choice, most would likely prefer to retain their youthful glory. Somehow, against all odds, Jr. Gone Wild has done that with Still Got The Jacket, and in the process reminded us what alt-country really means.

“In the past we always knew what we were going for, but didn’t really know how to get there,” McDonald says. “This time, we knew what we were going for and we knew what to do to get there. We were also isolated, with no outside influences. Our ideas were given free reign, with the only constraints being our own miserable insanities. There was a real sense of wanting to honour the band’s legacy, and a VERY strong desire to please our fans.”