By Zach Collier
Provo’s music scene has often been stereotyped as being full of “Folk.” That stereotype does hold some water, since an acoustic guitar is usually the first thing local college students gravitate towards as they head up the canyon for a bonfire, gather on a grassy hillside by the BYU duck pond, or meet up in someone’s living room for a late night jam session. Inexperienced and poor, these musicians write for the instruments they have on hand. The serious ones grow out of this awkward phase, with many finding their legs in other genres.
It saddens me, though, that “Provo Folk” is used in a derogatory way. Why? First of all, the music described above isn’t Folk. It’s just bad music by inexperienced songwriters who only have access to acoustic instruments. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Folk and roots Americana. When played well and presented authentically, the genre is able to evoke soul stirring images of nature and summer days. It can get you to reconsider the state of your soul and your relationship to the earth. It can take you to a simpler time. It can help you mourn the loss of love in a way that’s much more potent and raw than the sleek and shiny, quantized forms of pop and rock we’ve grown accustomed to. Grizzly Goat’s Ursus Oreamnos Americanus taught me this.
The members of Grizzly Goat are masterful musicians. Whether they’re playing electric guitar and wailing on a harmonica in the aptly named “Bullet Hole Blues” or using slide guitar, mandolin, and violin as textures to support the melancholic harmonies of “Idaho,” the band proves time and again that they know their genre inside and out. The band is incredibly versatile. “Little Jackie” is a humorous mid tempo romp about getting stoned. “Sycamore, Illinois” is short and sweet. It’s a lo-fi acoustic track that would feel at home on a Roger Miller playlist. Finger picking and furious solos abound on this album, providing quality sonic entertainment from beginning to end.
Additionally, the band manages to bring an incredible amount of depth to their straightforward lyrics. Thoughtful and introspective, they are sweetened and enhanced by narrative imagery. On the wonderfully simple “Oh My Road,” a voice you’d expect to hear on the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? croons, “20th of April, 2010: I was in a bad place, but anger could not keep pace, and I got me that good grace and going once again.” It’s one of the most thoughtful tracks on the album. It’s a beautiful ride. It took me back to my years as a Mormon missionary, walking past little white chapels on the dusty back roads of rural Pennsylvania. It perfectly captures the gratitude, joy, and righteous anxiety that dwells in a religious heart that’s baking under the hot Summer sun.
“Indiana” is a brutal track. It’s full of harsh truths that everyone must confront as they grow older. “I don’t believe your love will keep you warm. I don’t believe that time will heal all pains. The place you’ve gone won’t keep you safe from change.” This song, out of all of them, probably affected me the most.
“The Front Range” is the most instrumentally challenging and complex song on the album. The track isn’t perfect performance wise. At 1:57, the drums are a little sloppy on the fill. Normally, that would be a negative for me. But this little mistake actually makes drummer Scott Monson all the more impressive when his solo kicks in later in the song. You really appreciate the fact that you’re listening to a dang good drummer jam hard without the aid of computers and quantization. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s good.
If you’ve never listened to authentic Folk/Americana, Grizzly Goat is a great jumping off point. Admittedly, it’ll take a moment to recalibrate your ears and allow yourself to get into it. But if you do, you will find a wealth of wisdom and experience emotions that have lain dormant in your soul for years. I want people to stop using Provo Folk as a disparaging epithet. Gizzly Goat is a faithful representation of a vibrant and spirited genre – one that’s woefully misrepresented and doesn’t get enough credit around here.