Did I say that? Yes, though in my defense it was back in 1985. I was a sixteen year-old loitering in the basement of a sleazeball bar named Wellington’s, after witnessing Soul Asylum play a sweaty, full-bore show. The band had refused to play anything from their first e.p., Say What You Will, instead focusing exclusively on the less thrashy (and perhaps a touch more country) material from the stunning Made to be Broken album. Some fellow-traveler claimed, "Soul Asylum and this band from Edmonton, Jr. Gone Wild, are cow-punk”. I dismissed this possibility out of hand since back in the 80’s I, as narrow-minded music fans will, disavowed all country music.
Soon after the roots-rock sound (one of the more flagrantly critic-created genres) would be in full swing. When faced with an enemy as ugly as soulless and gutless synth-pop, a million bands (often older punks) went back in time. Eighties bands exhumed garage rock, folk-rock and psychedelia with glee. Then of course there was country-rock, which almost every single recording artist of the 60’s claims credit for (by the way it’s all about Buck Owens, the death-deifying Mr. Parsons aside). The less commercial bands (Jason and the Scorchers etc.) got called cow-punk and the ones who made beer commercials (Del Fuegos etc.) got labeled roots-rock. Unfortunately, all of the Bolo tie wearin' twangers got wiped out as the 80‘s bled into the 90’s. However, soon enough Uncle Tupelo managed to steal every ounce of credit leaving those pioneers cruelly empty-handed.
And there, North of all the action, was Mike McDonald, criminally neglected also-ran and linchpin of the Jr. Gone Wild. “They've been called "the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams." Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones” says an article on their thorough (and ten-year old!) web site.
The first album, 1986's Less Art, More Pop, works a punkish R.E.M. angle (though they claimed in old interviews that B.Y.O. Records forced the twee-hippie gear on them). Already Mike and his ever-changing but always talented support cast were writing smart, self-deprecating but ringing songs, such as “Slept all Afternoon" and the hardcore-lengthed (1:19!) yet sparkling, "It Never Changes".
In between record deals Jr. Gone Wild self-released Folk You a revealing, if artlessly titled, "assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs" (says the band web page). Within the digitized Chromium Dioxide here you will find an archetypal cow-punk double-timer, "Despite the Rain", a pretty ballad "Sleep with a Stranger", the Dylan-esque,"Rhythm of the Rain" plus another of McDonald's hummable jangly-pop numbers, "What's Going On?" (Covered by previous MRML object of obsession, the Doughboys!) which you may listen to right NOW!
Download Folk You
After moving to “rootsy” Canadian indie label Stony Plain for their sadder, wiser second album, Too Dumb To Quit (nice Ramones reference). This incarnation of JGW fell under the infleunce of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and (if McDonald is to be believed) gallons upon gallons of alcohol. The word Mature got hastily thrown around by critics but that can't be a bad thing if it produced sturdy mid-tempo weepers like "Poet's Highway" and full-blooded rockers like “In Contempt of Me".
Too Dumb to Quit
Mike sobered up for what may be their strongest album Simple Little Wish (which like it’s predecessor Pull the Goalie is still available from Stony Plain Records). Then, as is often the case for indie bands who burst out of the gate, things just died out and Jr. disbanded.
So enjoy the songs, even if cow-punk was just a dumb label.