Kootenay & Co. – Damaged Goods – Collaborative EP – EP Review
Exciting times, exciting times.
If you’ve been reading about the music of Kootenay & Co. here on our pages through our posting on the single “Far & Long Gone,” or read our interview with this project’s main centerpiece Jordan Kootenay from earlier this year, then chances are you know just how hard he’s been working on getting this EP out there into the world. From sourcing the right talents to play along with him, to battling the million hurdles that the pandemic era threw into his way, to the many personal struggles he faced before he even recorded a single solitary note – by all accounts, to read the whole story & know it, is to know that it’s pretty much a miracle that Jordan is even still around after all he’s been through. A resilient spirit that’s well on his road to recovery and finding a new path for himself through the music he’s making – the man should be proud of all he’s accomplished and the fact that he’s made it this far. As the old adage goes, it takes a lifetime to make your first record and you get two weeks to make your second – and I’d suspect that now Jordan knows better about what he’s capable of as a songwriter & musician, and all that it takes to put together a recording from start to finish…that next one won’t take him quite as long to get to. He’s focused now and has his head in the game…he knows what’s important and that this time we’ve got to make our mark is short…I’m confident he’ll continue to surge forward from here.
Honestly…not even being a Country-music fan for the most part myself, I’m really impressed by this record and how it’s all come out for Kootenay & Co. – you can hear the professionalism right off the drop as “Years Before” begins and these storyteller-style vibes start to work their magic on ya. The only thing I hear potentially working against this band is that they might not exactly be recreating the wheel – it’s a tough genre to stand out in right now with all the flash & dazzle & attention on the mainstream giants – but given the quality & strength of the songwriting you’ll find here, this record might have a better chance in making an impression than we realize right now & this early on post-release. With a little bit of time & listening ears giving this EP a healthy spin or two…I dunno…call me crazy, but I think Kootenay & Co. have the potential to win a whole lot of people out there over, just like myself, who recognize that quality songwriting is something that connects in every style & genre out there. The reality is, he’s got an EP that’s lined with genuinely interesting material…and with the attention to detail paid to the imagery in the lyrics & words, you feel like you’re listening to a story unfolding…which arguably, literally or metaphorically speaking, it is. Trying to piece together whatever the heck it was that happened the night before while waking up in a cell, “Years Before” pretty much lays it all out there as plain as day – this all might sound pleasant to the ears, but lyrically, it digs in so much deeper. Looking back on the person he was “Years Before,” this opening track instantly sets the tone for what’s to follow…stellar vocals, inspired musicianship, welcoming vibes, and lyrics that’ll cut right to the bone. Kootenay makes no excuses for his wild & out of control behavior in his past; he owns it, and he uses it now for a greater good…as a reminder to make each and every day better than the last, and LIVE life.
As you dive further into the story of Jordan Kootenay through the lead-single “Far & Long Gone” – you gotta dig just how real of a level this dude communicates on through the words of his songs, and how he’s able to express so much of what he’s been through with such vivid emotion & detail in his lyricism. I’ll put it to you this way – I criticize songs almost every day for not saying what someone is really looking to say…songs that are obviously looking to adhere to some melodic pattern or rhyme-scheme, and settling for the first word that fits it – Jordan’s done the opposite, and that’s what makes all the difference in the world really. There isn’t a need to compromise…you can still say what ya wanna say, and the great news is there’s a million words to choose from – be like Jordan, and don’t settle – if that first word you think of doesn’t really sound like you or something you’d say in the way you’d say it, keep searching until you find the ones that do. I promise ya, there’s plenty of words out there…no shortage that I’m currently aware of. But listen to a track like “Far & Long Gone” beyond the impressively chill & mellow Country-vibes in the music, beyond the impeccable fluidity & flow of the vocals – listen to the way Kootenay has phrased the lines, listen to how genuinely honest & real they are, listen to how he hasn’t had to compromise a single thing he’s wanted to say or made some weird sacrifice to suit some ridiculous rhyme-scheme…it’s the kind of writing that projects confidence, and rightly so. Jordan’s got a story, he’s got a point of view & perspective – and he should give himself some serious credit for being able to relate it all as well as Kootenay & Co. has been able to do through the songs on this record. Anyhow…you’ll hear all this to be true when you have a listen for yourself – he’s a genuinely gifted songwriter with a style of his own, that’s not opinion, that’s facts – read more about “Far & Long Gone” in the original post we put up here about this lead-single back in January this year by clicking right here.
I really like a lot of what I hear in singer Julia Formica’s vocals throughout the songs she sings on this record, and it felt like you get a spectacular highlight from her on “Undone.” From the exceptionally strong tone of her voice & tremendous confidence, to the brilliant technique & cleverness she reveals along the way…there’s no question about the fact that Kootenay & Co. has found a powerfully expressive voice to add to this album – Formica shows all the hallmarks of a true superstar, especially on “Undone.” Because we all tend to sing along with songs in our cars on the way to work, we all pretty much take it for granted when it comes to how much of a challenge it really is to sing someone else’s words – it can actually be extremely tough to do, no matter how fluid the design may seem. The best compliment I can give to Julia, and to Kootenay & Co. overall here in regards to “Undone,” is that Formica sings every single word you’ll hear like they were her very own. Kootenay & Co. is pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to this lineup of tunes…you’ve got “Far & Long Gone” and “Highway 1A” that were technically released as advance singles, but tracks like “Undone” and the very final track on this record reveal that there’s still a couple cuts well worth considering to put out there as another potential gateway in for the people out there. In any event, I can tell ya it’s certainly one of my own personal favorites from this record…I felt like you get that much more of a crossover sound that fuses the Blues perfectly with Country, and all-around, it felt like “Undone” was a real fresh idea with the way they’ve chosen to play it. Love the tone of the drums, love the fiddle, smart guitars & backing vocals in the mix, and the lead from Julia still nearly steals the entire show, even with all this great stuff goin’ on.
“Highway 1A” was one of the cuts from this EP that I was lucky enough to check out in advance, back when I was interviewing Jordan in April this year. It all went pretty quick from hearing a demo to the official release, and right around that same time, you might have heard me spin this very tune on the ol’ SBS Podcast as Kootenay & Co. continued to build momentum & generate some buzz on the way toward this Damaged Goods EP. While it’s clear that not all the details you’re gonna find throughout “Highway 1A” are gonna stack up to being one of the happiest songs you’ll hear this year, you’ll likely be surprised by just how pleasant, welcoming, and friendly so much of these songs will go on to sound like, this one certainly included. Kootenay has an insightful way of drawing you in to listen through what appears so gentle & sweet & quaint in its classic Country-style vibes, and then lining his lyricism with heavy contrast that draws from the grittiness of his real-life experiences. Ultimately, “Highway 1A” circles its way around to an appreciation for the moments we have & the memories we share…you travel on a road of harrowing details to get to this, but fundamentally at its core and in the chorus hooks, you’ll find that there’s actually an uplifting thread of light & love that burns strong. It might be a sad moment in time that Kootenay & Co. are detailing here…or several if you include the aftermath of the events that they’re singing about here…but there’s no question that at the heart of it all, it’s an experience that has clearly taught Jordan essential & valuable lessons about life that he’s been able to keep, and retain ever since. Listen to more of my thoughts on “Highway 1A” on the SBS Podcast from back in April by clicking here.
I’m almost surprised that “Lament” was listed as its own separate track given the circumstances surrounding the final cut, but we’ll get to that in a minute here – suffice it to say, this instrumental cut essentially serves as the intro into “Hopeless Pride, Pt. 1” to follow. There’s not too much to be said – “Lament” is exquisitely gorgeous and I’d take another five of this track any day of the week & twice on Sundays…five more minutes of it, or five tracks just like it…I’m not picky, I’ll take either of those options. As it stands here on its own, I’m certainly not complaining and I get its ultimate function – it flows so seamlessly & flawlessly directly into “Hopeless Pride, Pt. 1” that it’s nearly impossible to separate the two experiences…they don’t exactly need each other, but it enhances the experience by having both.
Impressive stuff. By all appearances, you’ve got an EP with five tracks that account for about seventeen & a half-minutes, and one final track that’ll take ya for a nearly twelve-minute ride to finish it all off with one last cut called “Hopeless Pride, Pt. 1.” Seem outta place to ya? A five minute tune ain’t that far of a stretch, but to go for twelve? Definitely raised my eyebrows in curiosity as I approached this last track in the lineup, no doubt about that – but the reality is, Kootenay & Co. have gone old-school here, and hidden a second tune on the record after a long break of silence after “Hopeless Pride, Pt. 1” is over. I’m thinkin’ that’s the mandolin from Brian Daniels that keeps standing out to me for all the right reasons as he chimes in throughout this now second-to-last cut on the Damaged Goods – Collaborative EP – I love what that instrument adds to this whole vibe. Major credit to Julia on the mic once again here – she’s beyond magnificent…listen to how INTENSE this song is, and recognize that the reason you likely feel that way is because of how well she’s connected with the words and fueled them with the right energy & emotion. No joke – this is a master-class of a performance here, where she’s not exactly surrounded by all that much when it comes to the ingredients of the song itself…there’s enough there to guide her along and set the stage for her to work her magic, but it’s really all on her shoulders to pull this one off. The great news is that she does…and even if the record WAS to end here, I’d have been plenty satisfied.
You know…it’s funny…there’s probably really only a couple of modest handfuls I can think of offhand with the fake-ending and another track to be revealed after the silence…and is it just me, or is it really the case that just about every time you’ll find this happening, you’ll discover a quality tune that almost makes you wonder what the heck it was that stopped it from being an official part of the lineup? I can think of tons of examples…some more appropriate to the context of a set-list, and some just really kickass & unique tunes as well, like say, Nirvana’s appearance on the No Alternative compilation album…Cracker’s Kerosene Hat…Nine Inch Nails and the Broken EP from back in the day…Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill…Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple album…my list could probably go pretty deep if I think about it…the stuff at the end of the final two records by Bootsauce will blow your mind…but every one of these examples alone highlights the point I’m making…which is that it’s always kinda strange to find some of these amazing unlisted tunes at the end of a recording, because the standard of quality cuts to be found in those albums & EPs that have’em, prove that the odds of finding a stellar track are actually really damn good. He legit got me though…and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had that feeling…not since the days of CDs & tapes has this happened at all really – but I’ll fully admit, I was wondering after all that silence had occurred whether or not Kootenay & Co. had perhaps just uploaded some kind of nutty file to the internet. Around the twenty-five minute mark, after about somewhere like, four & a half-minutes or so of silence, the band returns for their encore at long last – and like I’ve been alluding to, I’d be surprised if most people out there didn’t end up feeling like they found a real gem & one of the record’s most accessible songs within this hidden space. I like that there’s extra attitude in the vocals here to go with the exceptional melody…I like that the music brightens up a bit here with a lil’ more pep in its step as well. The hooks lean more towards a Pop-bend than the rest of this lineup by comparison, but you’ll hear that the added degree of accessibility to be found in the pace & pulse of this final untitled cut works wonders for Kootenay & Co., and finishes Damaged Goods with a fantastically repeatable song that seems to bring the heart out of this collaborative effort unlike any other. I don’t need every song to have a name on it…that’s an arbitrary rule that simply exists so we can locate the tunes we love…as long as I know where to find the ones I’m looking for, even hidden, I figure we’re all good – and no joke, finding this last cut on Damaged Goods was worth the full price of admission on its own really…maybe surprising to not have it listed in the official lineup, but whatever, I’m just glad it’s here.
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