It has been two weeks since I sat in the audience at Serenity Performing Arts Centre to watch Cod Gone Wild perform their newly released album “Battered & Fried.” This piece has been delayed due to technical difficulties, but although time has passed since their show, the impression left by these four musicians and their dynamic talent has remained.
It was my second time seeing Cod Gone Wild perform at Serenity. They have played here multiple times and are an integral part of the growing music family that venue owner Shirley de Vooght has nurtured over the past 6 years.
For a Celtic band focused on giving traditional music a modern edge, Cod Gone Wild is succeeding in spades. Booked months in advance for everything from weddings to festivals and house concerts to sports tournaments, their music and stage performance is diverse and adaptable to any size or type of audience.
Their wide appeal may be because their sound is nostalgic for some, yet entirely new to others. It is surely because they work extremely hard, have branded themselves perfectly and deliver a performance that has earned them solid reviews and referrals. What must also be remembered is at the end of the day they are four talented musicians who are the best of friends and full of heart.
Their house concert here was packed to the gills (fitting expression). It was the first time the band has been back since the new house stage was built which allows for a larger indoor audience. On this night, we experienced just how many people you can cram into that living room. 52 to be exact. Anjuli broke into laughter midway through the first set simply because she couldn’t believe how many people had fit in the space. “Look behind you,” she mused to the people in the front row, “it’s hilarious!” Andrew commented it was like watching an airplane load, person after person filing in minutes leading up to the show’s start. The band was thrilled to see the growing audience and so many new faces at the venue, proving how the magic of this place has finally caught on.
Speaking of magic, Cod Gone Wild have an energy that is unparalleled to many based on the simple fact that when you have a world class fiddler front and center in your band there is an intensity and momentum that is constantly at play. The band’s vibe is unquestionable on stage, and for this particular concert they had come to showcase their new album “Battered & Fried”, which they performed in its entirety for the audience (and that was just the first set).
The album is true to the band’s modern Celtic niche proudly resurrecting many traditional tunes as well as highlighting their own songwriting talents in originals interspersed throughout the 13 track album. Beginning the recording process in January, Cod Gone Wild finished the album under the wire just in time for their pre-scheduled release party in March. Thankfully the challenging time frame paid off, forcing them to pull together and go from pre-production to recording to producing the tracks for mastering in just over 2 months. The album’s audio recordings took place in Vernon BC in a space they have affectionately named “The Codshack,” a rented house they have converted into a home-based studio where they all live together (except for Anjuli who says that touring with these three men is great fun, but living with them full time is where she draws the line, which also included a tease or two claiming that “boys smell bad”).
After hearing the album performed live, the hands down favourites are the original songs, and this stays true when listening to the recordings. Again and again, no matter how well a band covers a song or puts their own spin on a traditional tune, there is nothing like listening to an artist perform their own music. Vocalist and guitarist Andrew Mercer has two songs on the album which demonstrate yet again how he is at the core of the band’s creative soul and vision. He wrote “Never Know” only the day before heading into the studio. It is a harrowing tune about honouring heritage, both of one’s family and community at large, in order to be mindful of the past before taking steps towards the future; a fitting message in our current times of environmental unrest. “I Remember” was written by Mercer a number of years ago in Newfoundland when he was performing with a different band. He figured it was time to bring the song back to share with a new audience, and he was right. The moving ballad of a boy mourning the loss of his father at sea touched the audience’s heart, especially those struggling with their own stories of grief.
Welcomed additions to the sophomore album are two original songs by Chad “Rhino” Carter, the band’s larger than life drummer and vocalist. Rhino’s physical presence is unmistakable on stage, but his big heart is the true show stopper. His song “Half Wagon Men/Half Wagon Reel” is an ode to his newfound Métis heritage and adds a fitting folk element to the album. In the same breadth, “Back Roads,” a song about his grandfather’s love of driving in the back country is the perfect end track to bring the album full circle in a compilation of stories shared with the listener. Cod Gone Wild has always had the gift of weaving a story together for their audience on stage, which they have also achieved with this album.
Although both Rhino and Andrew’s original songs are the true standouts, the success of the band’s music is due to each member and their unique talents and strengths. Anjuli Otter can easily be named the “star” on the stage; the attractive fiddler’s beauty and talent captivate you instantly while her no-holds-bar character and quick mouth can make your jaw hit the floor and insides ache from laughter. Her thumbprint is clearly heard in each song on the album, proving that the fiddle in many respects is the foundational element to Cod Gone Wild’s sound and appeal.
Finally, Roy Kawano, the ever humble bass player who remains relatively behind the scenes, is essentially what gives the band its true edge; sometimes the most understated of elements make the largest impact.
Overall, “Battered & Fried” is a well shaped sophomore album that will not only please long time Cod fans, but has the ability to draw in folk fans across multiple genres. Without question, it deserves one hell of an east coast “Sociable!”
Standout Traditional track: “Canadiana Medley” – features exceptional performances by each band member including up-tempo guitar from Andrew, Rhino on spoons (spoons!), an overdose of Anjuli on the fiddle, and even a bass riff solo from Roy…need I say more?
Cod Gone Wild performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, May 3, 2014.
Their new album “Battered & Fried” is available through their website at www.codgonewild.ca.
Get your Serenity Harvest Music Festival tickets through www.serenitymusic.ca to see Cod Gone Wild perform live and provide lights and sound for the entire 3 day festival here on the acreage, September 5-7, 2014.
Photos courtesy of Steve Mechem.