Album Review: The Rural Alberta Advantage—“Mended With Gold”

The Rural Alberta Advantage

By Carey Roach

When I think of quintessential Canadian folk rock, the Rural Alberta Advantage is one of the first bands to come to mind. Their third and most recent record, Mended with Gold, stays true to this description, and that’s a very good thing. Not only has the RAA continued to do what they do best, but Mended with Gold is also a testament to how the band has evolved and improved.

Album art for Mended with Gold

Album art for Mended with Gold

This time around, the Rural Alberta Advantage is a sleeker, more mellow, and generally tighter band, although they haven’t abandoned their energetic folk roots or their knack for referencing Albertan towns in song titles. This album shows that the band has developed a sense of restraint, which was arguably their biggest struggle on previous records: Paul Banwatt’s drumming, while still lively, is no longer as overbearing as it used to be; Nils Edenloff’s vocals are more controlled, less strained and never reach the point of being jarring, which was once an occasional problem. Tracks like “Runners in the Night” introduce us to a mellow, mature side of the Rural Alberta Advantage, and it’s definitely effective.

Luckily, even with the band’s newfound mellowness, they certainly haven’t gotten boring. “Terrified,” the first single off the record, is a classic Rural Alberta Advantage track: haunting backing vocals, a catchy chorus, and beautifully dark acoustic guitars make it just as good as RAA classics like “Frank, AB” or “Tornado ’87,” if not even better.

Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Amy Cole also leaves more of a mark on this record, while her talent was criminally underemphasized on previous RAA records Hometowns and Departing. “On the Rocks” and “Vulcan, AB” give Cole more of a chance to shine, a welcome change in the band’s dynamics.

What makes Mended with Gold so good is that it is cohesive without becoming repetitive. Not a single song sounds out of place. The instrumental lineup never strays far from the band’s traditional percussion, keyboard and guitar formula, but the band still manages to create an interesting mix of upbeat and melodic songs.

As a genre, folk rock has always been a bit of a paradox, but the Rural Alberta Advantage manages to embody the genre better than most of their contemporaries. In order to create quality folk rock, one must find the balance between beautiful and raw, soft and loud. When it comes to this balance, the RAA finds their footing on Mended with Gold, and tracks like “The Build” really exemplify this.

The fact that Edenloff shut himself away in a cottage on the Bruce Peninsula to write new material for this record is evident — listening to Mended with Gold evokes memories of sitting on a dock at midnight or driving down an empty highway in Muskoka, a feat that every good Canadian folk rock record seems to accomplish.

In short, Mended with Gold represents a new era for the Rural Alberta Advantage. They played a career-changing show at Toronto’s prestigious Massey Hall this past summer, and the creation of Indie88 has given them a new media outlet and access to a larger fan base. With that in mind, it’s only fitting that this record is more mature and better produced than its predecessors. Mended with Gold is a truly solid record that hints that the best truly is yet to come for Canadian indie rockers the Rural Alberta Advantage. (Paper Bag)

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