Opening act the John Henrys was already in full swing when I walked through the front door of Ottawa’s longstanding alternative rock club.

The John Henry’s were one local band I’ve managed to avoid seeing – too bad, since they play California country rock of the highest calibre, they have two excellent guitarists, a hard-hitting rhythm section and swell electric piano too boot (terrible banter from the keyboard player Steve Tatone, though). Rey Sabatin is an energetic frontman (plays some nice mandolin too, when he’s not wielding a Thinline Telecaster or Gretsch Country Rose). An excellent act with chops to spare – they’d fit perfectly on a bill with the Asteroid No. 4.

They don’t fit quite so perfectly with headliners Elliott Brood, but in all likelihood the only acts that could are fellow Torontonians the Fembots or Ottawa’s Golden Famile in a pinch.

Elliott Brood is composed of an acoustic guitar player, Casey Laforet, who plays through a Digitech Metal Distortion pedal, a banjo-playing singer (Mark Sasso) and a drummer, Stephen Pitkin, who plays luggage. Yes, I know there are percussionists who use small suitcases as snares … but when was the last time you saw one of those big plastic jobs (complete with luggage tag) doing double duty as a bass drum?

They’ve been given the daft tags of “metal folk” and “death country” … they aren’t really noisy enough to qualify for the former, and considering the subject matter of many of those old-time ballads the latter is redundant … let’s just say they’ve got a dark outlook and some grinding fuzz.

Sasso and Laforet looked a bit like the chaps who come to your door with religious literature in hand in their ties, short-sleeved white shirts, brown slacks and sensible oxfords. Of course, it would have to be a religion whose two main sacraments are fatal barroom shootouts and campfire sing-alongs.

Sasso sings in a naïf yowl well suited for driving on dusty roads with one broken headlight, travelling out west and songs entitled 'Bowling Green' that neither Everly brother would recognize.

So what was learned that night. Go and see the John Henrys if you can. If you want to get a good sound out of a suitcase, simply pop the microphone in, close the lid and batter to taste. And if Elliott Brood come to your door with religious literature, don’t answer, But do go see them if they play near you, or even if they play a bit far away.

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Commenting On: Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa, 15/8/2004 - Elliot Brood and the John Henrys

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