This is a summer record -- appropriately released in the summer of 2003 -- but more than inspiring images of sun-baked fields and clear blue skies, Limbeck's Hi, Everything's Great is a Road Trip record. Think black strips of highway crisscrossing those sun-baked fields, overpasses winding over city-scapes, and comfortable silences in the car as rain pounds the windshield -- certainly not unpleasant pictures. The same goes for the album. Hi, Everything's Great features simple rhythms, jangly country/rock riffs, and earnest lyrics that come together to produce a strikingly visual record. By the end of its 12 tracks, Limbeck succeeds in drawing an affectionate but honest picture of the American landscape as seen through the windows of a tour van driving across the country.
With all of these varied images of the American experience, Limbeck's label, Doghouse Records, isn't exactly located in the most scenic or ideal place for such wide-open musings. Toledo, Ohio, doesn't scream "carefree" or "freedom" by any stretch of the imagination; however, label-mates the All-American Rejects have also succeeded in capturing that big and almost jubilant sound of the open expanse. The same can be said for Sunday Driver and River City High. All have got Americana written all over them.
But Limbeck would win the prize for best alt-country, road trip experience... if there were such a contest. The album opens with its strongest song, "Honk+Wave" -- a bittersweet request for civility when passing an ex-lover on the highway. "She really broke my heart in two / Four years later I still never forgave her / The thing is when I was ready to / I had completely dismissed her, now I think I'm driving through her state / Now I'm not ready for some burned down bridge just yet / And I'm not saying I want anything from you / The only thing I really want now if I see you Suz, is if we drove side-by-side through the Bee-hive State / We could honk and wave". Singer and lyricist Rob MacLean tells the story in straightforward yet eloquent language. His words travel from point A to B without obscure poetics or foggy pontificating. Guitarist Patrick Carrie strums a blues and rockabilly-infused riff that's highly conducive to head bobbing while flying down the road. Go ahead and hang an elbow and arm out the window to complete the picture.
"Silver Things" sort of reprises the first track with an equally catchy hook and an even better, even more nod-able and shuffle-worthy beat. "Julia" praises all those crush-worthy girls from high school with endearing lyrics like, "We all got rides 'cause no one had their license".
As the album progresses from there, the band's influences become clearer. The Old '97s as well as Wilco and Uncle Tupelo are behind the jangle in Carrie's guitar playing and MacLean's vocal twang. These influences make for a rather unoriginal sound; however, Limbeck does a great job of putting that sound to good use on this album. "In Ohio on Some Steps" is a sweet acoustic tune about the wonderful and, I feel, completely pointless state of Ohio. "Comin' from Tucson" closes the album on a high note. The song is a trip home from the Arizona city, with the driver living in his head to keep himself awake. "It was a long quiet drive / Yeah we took it last night / Over the Colorado River / It's been a long long night / Cause I'm still tryin' to figure out / How she slept in my car again". It ends with a rousing chorus -- "I can imagine that we won't miss this / Comin' from Tucson with everyone sleepin'"-- and a sharp finish that ideally happens right as the car arrives in the driveway.
With so many references to specific highways and cities visited en route to far-off destinations, Hi, Everything's Great is an album firmly anchored in concrete American imagery. It's a pleasure to listen to and makes for a carefree car ride. Job well done.