Don't Kill The Fill Ins: Reviews Of Recent Releases By Local Bands, Pt. 67
Disclaimer: Record reviews are a tricky business. It's one thing to enjoy music, but to pick out what you like (or dislike) about it? That being said, if I review your thing and I didn't like something, don't feel too bad. My opinion doesn't matter all that much.
Great Plains - The Mark, Don & Mel E.P. + 4 - Rerun Records - 12 songs - LP
I don't know if this is common knowledge amongst readers of this column or just people who actually know me, but I love Great Plains. It's kinda hard to write any review other than "Ron House 5/5" but I acknowledge that to do so would be to fail my audience, who might actually want to know something more about this. This is a reissue of the very first Great Plains record from 1983, with some additional live tracks stuck on at the end (which made this into a 33 instead of a 45, which may be cause for concern for some, but we won't dwell on that). It's pretty great. I guess at its heart it would be called "garage rock," but there's a very distinct '80s indie feel to it as well. You know, if that means anything to you. There's some upbeat garage-poppers, such as "When Do You Say Hello?" and "Pretty Dictionary" along with a mix of kind of more ominous, almost haunting songs, like "The Way She Runs A Fever" or especially "It's Dying." I kinda wanna take the whole thing with me on my next spooky road trip. The keyboard part on "Confetti" is real cool, as are the weird reverb-heavy parts. I don't think there's a single iffy or even just-okay lyric in "The Night Won't Live To See The Day," and it also has 1. the greatest opening lines ever and 2. some really nice sloppy harmonies on the chorus. The all-time classic "Cave-In" sounds like it's about to fall apart from the opening seconds of the song on, and I love when we get to the bridge and Ron just misses every note. Both of those points actually illustrate another great quality about this, which is its amateurishness, which can especially be heard on some of the live bonus tracks, which really gives the band a lot of heart. I don't believe "Seven Days All Night" or "Cause Without The Rebel" were ever studio-recorded (which is a real shame about the former, given the sound quality of the live recording here doesn't quite do it justice– "Cause" sounds pretty good though). I mean, unless you want to count the Moses Carryout (or was it Twisted Shouts?) version of the latter…but was that even a studio version? I can't remember. I think the live version of "Hamburger Boy" here blows away the one from "Naked At The Buy, Sell & Trade." "I Must Have Made It All Up" provides us with some of the backstory of the mysterious bassist Hank O'Hare (actually Don Howland, who apparently was embarrassed by these recordings and didn't want his real name on them, which is ridiculous), and it's really great to hear Ron switch from being a smart-ass to singing this really sincere, sad song, and then during the bridge switch right back to "I wanna say hi to all my kids out there" and then right back into the song. The true dual-nature of Great Plains, right there. I could go on and on about this all day, but I wanna save some of my good lines for the "Born In A Barn" review. 4.5/5
Great Plains - Born In A Barn - Rerun Records - 13 songs - LP
This one is Great Plains' second record (their first full-length) and their debut for the seminal Homestead label. People are fond of using the description "smart" for certain bands, to the point where it ceases to have real meaning. Well, Great Plains really are smart. There's a good amount of lyrics on here that I'm certain mean something or are a reference to something else, but I am too stupid to get more than, let's say, 30% of them. "Lincoln Logs," with its "presidential" guitar riff and backing shouts of "Abraham! Abraham!" is obviously about our 16th president, that's an easy one. Even Ron House's typically sarcastic tone sounds emotional and sincere on the rather sad "I Must Have Made It All Up," and just to give the listener some mood whiplash, it's followed by "Love To The Third Power," which a friend of mine would almost certainly call a "banger," though I would prefer to describe it as a "ripper," between the cool keyboard line, the enthusiastic vocal performance, the backwards guitar solo, the amazing sloppiness of the ending…it's pretty darn good. There's (of course) some amazing lyrics on here. If Lincoln makes a mistake, "it's a mistake that someone had to make," meanwhile the narrator of "Love To The Third Power" is "counting every finger on her hand" while "her eyes change the color of my scream." Going back to the historical nature of the tracks, "Rutherford B. Hayes" (which discusses not only Hayes, but Mark Hanna and Woody Hayes, who according to the lyrics is Rutherford's grandson– I don't think that's actually true-- I think the verse about the assassination is about William McKinley as well– lots to take in here) is followed by "Black Sox Scandal/What Are You Living On," which starts as a pretty morose song about Shoeless Joe Jackson before following a rather psychedelic transition into a more upbeat (though still minor) second part. I have a hard time following "The Knotted One," between its references to Blake and Rimbaud, but it's a good song nonetheless. After beginning with a goofy takeoff of "Let's Dance" (the Chris Montez song, not the David Bowie song), "Columbus Dispatch" provides a pretty savage indictment of the titular newspaper– "if the streets are cold, the bums have a use for you"; "I read the Plain Dealer too soon, saw something that looked like news." I certainly would never want to be on the receiving end of a Ron House-penned diss track. To further the sort of nostalgic (if not all that positive) looking back that a lot of the lyrics do, there's a good line in here: "with my open eyes, I saw the world that my parents' blew." Kicking off the second side, "Serpent Mound" continues that trend of looking into the past, but at the same time juxtaposing that with modern times. We almost immediately go from the streets of revolutionary Paris to the narrator hoping his car doesn't get towed, and that trend continues throughout the lyrics, as kind of described by the line in the first verse, "to see time perform." It's really kind of a beautiful song, including the semi-haunting harmonica solo. Enthusiastic drumming, too: they don't call him Dave Manic for nothing! Besides the great title, "When Honesty Gets Old" also features a good reverb-heavy guitar riff and more good lyrics. "Death Of A Thought Returns" kicks off with some pretty crunchy guitar and features Matt Wyatt on lead vocals during the verses, who, while he's no Ron House, does a very good job at driving home the emotion of the (great) song. The last three tracks on the record prove, above all, that these guys can really set a mood. Between Ron's panic attack of a vocal performance on the bridge of "Black Like Me," the chaotic instrumental performance of the same song, the really menacing vibe of "Old 3C" (Ron and co-lead vocalist Mike Rep almost sound scared themselves) (though perhaps all is not so bad– driving the Old 3C, they set out to "find some hope and take it back to my home" (though who knows if they will succeed)), and the haunting sound of "Town's Got A Widow" (the way Ron mumbles the last verse, culminating in the repetition of "there's more stars than I've ever seen tonight" gives me chills, along with the feeling that the calmness of the song is about to give way to something bad at any second) it's kind of a harsh last 10-or-so minutes of the album (but in a good way). I could spend hours doing detailed lyrical and musical analyses of each song here, but that's not what a review is for, and besides, I do not have time to do so. All you really need to know is that this is a great album (despite the negative review printed on the inner sleeve) and a great band. Rerun did a really great job on these two as well (my one complaint is that the lyric sheet for this one was shrunk down to fit on the inner sleeve, but seeing as I am young, I am still able to read it). Also, the download contains lots of bonus material, for true believers like me. 4.5/5