[27 January 2009]
Two Cow Garage continues ins its search for the perfect barroom rock record. On Speaking in Cursive, the Columbus, Ohio band takes on relationships, old bandmates, American poetic icons and New Jersey. It is the sound 100,000 miles on the road makes. It may well be what Springsteen would have sounded like had he spent a nickel in Joliet, Illinois, smoking filterless Camels. In other words, it works.
On its fourth release and first full album as a four piece, Two Cow, as they are known amongst fans, seem to have taken a step forward in the studio. The band has long been recognized as an unbeatable live act. As documented in John Boston’s documentary “The Long way Round”, the band refuses to mail in a concert. The difficulty lied in translating and transferring that sound onto record.
On Speaking in Cursive, the band returned to Echo Lab in Denton, Texas. Working again with Matt Pence of Centro-matic, the album’s sound proves less directionless rage than contemplative aggression. The youth this band had, in the past, forced listeners to question the authenticity of its lyrics. No more. Two Cow Garage have been on the road for nearly a decade, and every complaint about club owners who don’t pay up, crowds who don’t show up and critics who simply won’t shut up are authentic.
“Your Humble Narrator” opens the record with: “Waking up to cassette tapes and ashtrays all filled up from the night before”, an indication that primary songwriter and vocalist Micah Schnabel intends to continue his theme of casting a critical eye on the choices he made. It is a natural follow up to III’s “Should’ve California” and recognition the choices he made were not the easiest. “Brass Ring”, too, examines the rock singer’s life, and, on it, the percussion section of Two Cow rises to a new level. Songs new drummer Cody Smith has mastered live leap off the album.
Filling out the Two Cow Garage sound is keyboard player Andy Schell, who textures Speaking in Cursive tastefully, ignoring any notion to reinvent its sound. The release paints a portrait of a band reaching its peak. Shane Sweeney, aside from Schnabel the last original member, delivers a better vocal performance throughout than on any previous record. His songwriting continues to grow into a versatile second punch for the band, proving particularly effective on “The Heart and the Crown”, as well as “Glass City”.
In the end, Schnabel dominates the record. His takes on “Skinny Legged Girl”, “Funeral Drag” and “Bastards and Bridesmaids” are infectious. What once appeared to simply be a howl has grown into an unmistakable voice and with lyrical prowess. In particular, the lyrics for “Skinny legged Girl” show a new dimension to Micah Schnabel—proof he takes his craft seriously.
The leap is enough to make a listener anxious to see what comes next. A band in the pre-digital mold, Two Cow Garage tour incessantly to raise enough money to make a record. They then make a record to tour incessantly behind in order to make another. Finding a home at the perfect fit and very supportive Suburban Records this past year may help to make that first part a bit easier. Either way, Speaking in Cursive should be more than enough to hold fans over for another year or two.