Good Old War – Only Way to Be Alone
Release Date: August 19, 2008 (digital) | September 16, 2008 (physical)
Record Label: Sargent House
I tend to suffer from a bit of insomnia, and with my long work hours, that means I find myself stretched out in front of the TV with my laptop at times when I really ought to be asleep. So, it suffices to say that I see my fair share of infomercials, but a while back, one struck me quite profoundly. It was for a classic rock music compilation and it featured tracks by Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and the like. As I listened to those little 10 second song clips intended to entice me into an exorbitant “TV-only” purchase, I was really struck by something about the music that was being presented in contrast to what we hear today. Bands back then knew how to sing. Not just frontmen or singers, but bands. Thinking about this a little more, I was really able to digest what this meant, and it made me think that vocals have to be the most underused instrument in music today.
This does not mean that frontmen and women should all be four or five octave champions, of course. Instead, bands need to reflect on the inherent effectiveness and beauty that can be contained in a simple two or three part harmony, or a crafty vocal arrangement. This is a lesson that has not been lost on the members of Good Old War. Rising from the ashes of Days Away (Keith Goodwin and Tim Arnold) and Unlikely Cowboy (Dan Schwartz), we already knew this trio had skills, but it wasn’t really clear just how far they could take them before the release of Only Way to Be Alone.
The debut offering from Good Old War is really a rare sort of record. I did not need any time to adjust to it, to tell my mind to stop missing Days Away and focus on the tunes at hand. I loved it- pure and simple – from first listen, and I continue to do so to this day. It has all the components of an instant classic – it sounds like it could have come from any decade out of the past five, but its timing right now just makes it all the more refreshing – especially when contrasted to the mountains of overproduced, underdelivering pop music out there right now (ironically, the type of garbage that pushed Days Away off FBR a few years ago). Equal parts folk-rock, alt-country, and classic pop, but entirely pleasing, this is precisely what aging Days fans needed to cope with their loss.
While there is plenty of merit in Good Old War’s release as a whole, the vocals certainly take center stage. While Keith Goodwin’s chords have been doling out ear candy to the headphone trippers for years now (see what I did there?), it is when his sweet and unassuming delivery converges with his backers that the magic really happens. There are a myriad of such highlights in the album, but in the galloping exuberance of “Just Another Day” when Keith and company croon, “See you soon / under the moonlight” (with the “oo’s” drawn out in dramatic fashion) it is difficult to recall comparable vocal brilliance in the last few years. Similar charm can be heard on the bluesy “Weak Man” (complemented by an tremendous Anthony Green cameo), the slow-paced shimmer of “We’ve Come a Long Way,” or the minimalist campfire intimacy of “Tell Me.” And perhaps the best part about all of this is the fact that the production serves no excessive cleanup duties here – all vocal tracks are distinct and just rough enough to be heard as unique entities rather than just studio wizardry. Again, in bucking the trends with that move, I say bravo.
All in all, there is just so much to adore about Only Way to Be Alone. Above its immediate accessibility, there is a lot more diversity than can be expected from neo-folksters, and better yet, none of the songs fall flat as a result. Whether it be the album’s opener, “Coney Island,” which recalls the sprit of The Format’s Interventions and Lullabies, the jangly swells of “Looking for Shelter,” or any of the work’s eleven cuts, nothing warrants apathy, and certainly not a press of the track-skip button. With all the one-hit wonders flashing in the pan right now, I’d say this is one hell of a statement. Buy this album as soon as you can, and you will never regret it.
As of now it's probably my favorite of the year... with Valencia running close behind. But I am still waiting for Jack's Mannequin, Anberlin, Rise Against, and Third Eye Blind (if it comes this year). That's some good competition.
As stated it says "Recommended If You Like: Days Away... Limbeck"... I've always thought to myself that its like a blend of the two bands.
Great review... pretty much mirrored my thoughts of the record (except for the late night infomercial buy, i've never done that)