On reviewing The Janzen Boys 4 track EP titled ‘Roads’, I realise that the age range of the band members starts with 10 year old Mandolin player Mick, followed by brother Simon aged 14, and ends with John, their dad, whom I’ll assume is somewhere in his thirties at least. Occasional harmonies are also provided by their younger sister Diana.
I do love the concept of a family band, and there have been some wonderful examples of this over the years, even with fake musical family bands such as ’The Partridge Family’ (a long, long time ago). Seemingly the Janzen family have a house littered with musical instruments (left around on purpose by dad, John). His idea was that if you’re a bored youngster, you’re most likely to pick up something musical to pass away the time. Good thinking dad! Leaving math and science books around might not work as well though…
In fairness to everyone in a band who is neither related or under 16, I will continue to review this EP on its musical merit, rather than the ages or relationships of the band members (as commendable and capable as their musical abilities are at such tender years).
The EP opens with “Which Road Takes Me Home”, a competent harmonised song and well delivered. Fast paced, I can hear elements of Neil Young in the vocal delivery, and even (dare I say) bits of R.E.M. at times as I listen to the words “chronically depressed” ringing out. The mandolin/banjo gives a touch of bluegrass to what is essentially country. It’s very easy to listen to, and tight on the harmonies. The speed and rhythm of the arrangement pays a positive nod to the modern country elements that currently chart. Personally I enjoyed the mandolin interlude which punctuated the song a few times, and added a slightly menacing edge. The lyrics are suitably reflective: “Everybody gets to sow a few wild oats / Well I never sowed none / And I’ll be damned if the thought doesn’t haunt me / That I should have had more fun“
The next track, “Family Affair” is another good song, this time medium paced, it has strong traits of some of the older country sounds as exampled by the likes of Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers. Not a bad thing, as they always sang feel good songs with a story to tell that kept you listening. There are touches of melancholy in the air, which I personally like, avoiding the sickly sweetness of some songs in this style. The echoes of mandolin/banjo flicker in the background like a candle flame.
“Where Are You” comes up next, moving into a more conventional modern country arrangement, with standard band drums/guitar/bass and organ/piano sound. Again, very easy on the ear, and the lyric “I once was blind but now I see” gives this song a religious air. I could imagine it being sung at the local church. It seems to be about getting on with your life and having faith going forward, not hanging on to the past.
Finally “One For the Road”, a slower song, which reminds me of James Taylor – it has a catchy melody line, simply delivered. Again the harmonies provided by the youngsters are excellent. The lyrics are much more decipherable here, probably because the solo singing stands out in the mix, and there’s less going on instrumentally. The line “Walk along the splinters of starlight that bleed“ invokes a great visual in my mind.
Overall, The Janzen Boys are on to a really good thing. From what I can see, this is their first release and it’s not bad at all. I did feel as I listened, that incorporating some stronger melodic hooks would be required to get them to the next level, but I’ve played the EP around 5 times now, and the songs are growing on me. My favourite tune is “One for the Road” which on research was written by Erik Lundgren. Keep up the great work family!