Two Cow Garage - Speaking in Cursive
Record Label: Suburban Home Records
Release Date: October 21, 2008
In six years, the Columbus, OH band Two Cow Garage has played on average more than 200 shows per year, criss-crossing the United States in search of any bar room that will let them in. Their unending determination and love affair with America's highways has brought the band to the pinnacle of their career. On their fourth full-length, Speaking in Cursive, the band picks up where III left off, thrusting their trademark, guitar-bass-drum aural assault into the spotlight. This time around though, the band's twangy, cow-punk sound is buttressed by the masterful keyboard sounds of Andy Schell, whose numerous solos and flourishes add depth to the band's crunchy rock attack.
Beginning with the nearly flawless opener "Your Humble Narrator," in which vocalist's Micah Schnabel haggard, smoke-filled voice emerges, there's little reason to doubt the alt. country quintet. Schnabel opens up with the lyrics, "Waking up to cassette tapes and ashtrays, all filled up from the night before, smoke filled lungs and tapes full of songs, and a stranger laying on the floor," and the structure is toned-down and mid-tempo. As the song gradually builds, it threatens to take off, and shortly before the 2:30 mark, explodes into an adrenaline-fueled romp, due in no small part to Schnabel's sandpapery yelps and growls.
Those raspy vocals are once again center stage on the the whiskey-soaked, punk-rock send up "Brass Ring," in which he sings, "Don't ever be second stage, apathetic melancholy is all the rage, there was never any brass ring to be found." Building on that momentum is third track, "Folksinger's Heart" which features an indelible organ solo, followed in succession by a flaring southern-tinged guitar solo. The autobiographical nugget pens the lines, “Older brother, oldest son, I was never any good at either one, and my father, and the truth, destroy the thing you love, son before it destroys you. It was arrogant to think from the start, you were the only backyard Dylan with a folksinger’s heart." On should-be single, "Bastards and Bridesmaids," guitars buzz, while the rhythm section churns cohesively before propelling itself into an undeniable hook.
On the lighter and melodic "Wooden Teeth," Schnabel returns to the mic and Two Cow Garage sounds fresh and ready to tackle the current radio climate. The band returns to form on the Born To Run-esque "Glass City," in which bassist Shane Sweeney allows his gruff, Tom Waits-like bass to take center stage. Propelled by the desperate lyrics, "This glass city’s gonna waste my life, Then she comes in saying ‘Walk with me, boy, and I’ll show you the light’, and I lose all of my strength to fight," it is a quintessential highway song about grit and determination. The ode to youth, "Swingset Assasin," features lines about The Beatles and romping on a playground but the stark reality is the song far deeper than its acoustic nature indicates. On the funereal "Sadie Mae," the band lets keyboardist Schell take center stage, as the melodic rock number brings a tear-jerking story to life, as Schnabel sings "If the love doesn't kill me, the loneliness will. And if these drugs don't thrill me, then nothing else will." The song, a fascinating character study about a teenager’s penchant for self-medication and the isolation, weaves the details of a good girl with a Virgin Mary tattoo and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, succumbing to her inner demons. Speaking in Cursive ends with the all-too-brief, alt. country ballad, "Swallowed By the Sea," in which bassist Shane Sweeney sings in a gravelly bass and is backed by plaintive instrumentation.
Make no mistake about it, Speaking in Cursive is the Buckeye quintet's most solid album to date. With the exception of the chauvinistic mess "Skinny Legged Girls," and the throwaway "The Heart and The Crown," there are little, if any missteps from front to back. As expected, Schnabel's vivacity is undeniable and he doesn't disappoint on this effort. The spunk and zest of their no-frills, no-nonsense bar-room rock is more alive in these 13 songs than it ever has been. This is due in no small part to the addition of Schell, who truly is what makes this album so compelling. His runs and solos are arguably the greatest use of organ and keys since Roy Bittan's heyday with the E. Street Band. Ranging from loud, dirty anthems to muted acoustic guitar lullabies, the songs on Speaking in Cursive provide a raspy, sorrow-filled look at adolescence that makes for one of the most compelling listens of the year. No, this album probably won't go mainstream and it probably won't knock down music barriers, but what it will do, is restore faith in rock n' roll. For those that are paying attention, this is exactly how it's done.