Two Cow Garage - Sweet Saint Me (Suburban Home Records 2010)
The following review is the hardest I've ever written. It took me a couple weeks after hearing the album to write it, because I just loved the album so much that I felt nothing I could write would properly describe the quality of the music. The album is amazing, I just hope my review adequately reflects that:
If there were any real justice in the realm of music, a hard working, honest band like Two Cow Garage would be at the level Lady Gaga is at, or at least Ke$ha. But there isn't, and there are a lot of people who will probably never hear Two Cow Garage or their upcoming fifth album, Sweet Saint Me. Which is a shame, because it's one of the best albums I've heard all year*.
Sweet Saint Me finds the band with the same working class aesthetic that I loved in my first exposure to them, 2007's III. The band have gotten even better two albums later, honing their songwriting and musicianship. The album drips with blue collar Americana, making comparisons to early Springsteen inevitable. Several songs sound like they easily could have been on the Boss's first couple albums if you swap the voices. "Wanted To Be" in particular sounds like an unused track from Born To Run, and the band even reference the title track from that album on "Jackson, Don't You Worry." The Springsteen comparisons are obvious, but that doesn't mean Two Cow Garage are some rip-off act. Like Gaslight Anthem, TCG take Springsteen influence (as well as other Americana influence, such as Woody Guthrie, who is named-checked in "My Great Gatsby") and punk rock values and create something all new and unique.
Sweet Saint Me is an amazing album overall, an excellant example of great songwriting, both in lyrics and music. The guitar/piano opening to "Lydia," leads into some great opening lyrics ("I wanna be loved like an old soul song, I wanna feel like the second verse of 'Let's Get It On'"), which leads into a great chorus ("Lydia, you're much too young to have your teeth on the tip of my tongue, if just your lips were a little older"). The semi-a capella ending of "Jackson, Don't You Worry" just might be the most emotionally gripping 40-something seconds in underground music of the past several years. The excellent ballad-rocker "Angeline" leads to "My Great Gatsby," with an opening that is the hardest few seconds on the album to that point before settling into frontman Micah Schnabel longing for the return of Woody Guthrie and the troubadours, then leads to Micah screaming "This is not an alibi, this is who I am!" "Lucy And The Butcher Knife" comes even heavier than the opening of "My Great Gatsby," with driving drums that just won't quit backing chugging guitars and Micah and bassist Shane Sweeney trading vocal duties. And considering all the songs preceding it, I can't imagine a better song than "Brothers In Arms" to close out the album.
The album sat in my car for several days before I finally put it in my CD player. Suburban Home Records had hyped the album so much that I was afraid to listen to it, certain there was no way it could live up the expectations the label gave me. It then stayed in my CD player for over a week, and I listened to it several times. I just couldn't get over how great it was. It's one of few albums that I would honestly recommend to anyone, regardless of musical tastes. The album will definitely find its main audience among fans of Drag The River, Lucero and Gaslight Anthem, but I think it's universal and has the widest potential appeal of any of the albums I've reviewed on this blog.
Favorite tracks: "Lydia," "Jackson, Don't You Worry," "My Great Gatsby," "Soundtrack To My Summer"
*And that's quite a feat, considering this year also saw the release of Gaslight Anthem's American Slang, Guster's Easy Wonderful, Fake Problems' Real Ghosts Caught On Tape, and The Sweet Revenge's Creatures of Routine.