Local Yodels #3
The Great Book of John
By The Great Book of JohnCommunicating Vessels8/9/11
When I heard that the Birmingham band, The Great Book of John would be releasingtheir sophomore effort on the Birmingham label, Communicating Vessels, I was anxiousto hear it, expecting to hear more of the straightforward folk rock that they laid down on
in 2009. I’d heard they’d moved in a somewhat new direction, but that didn’t bother me. Still, the heavy, wall of guitar sound that follows the weird little electronicsound that “Robin Hood” begins with, took me aback. It’s this song and a couple of others that have drawn comparisons to Radiohead and Pink Floyd. That, and the facttheir engineer, Darrell Throp has worked with Radiohead and Beck in the past. Youcould just as easily compare them to Bright Eyes, Wilco or even Beck, but no matter whoyou compare them too, the fact is that they have their own sound, and singer-songwritingwho could be in the class of the ones who front those groups.Taylor Shaw first came to people’s attention as the lead guitarist of Wild Sweet Orange,the Birmingham band that broke out, when they landed a song on
andeven appeared on Letterman before disbanding. Shaw and most of the other members of WSO were also working in his band, The Great Book of John (the name is taken from theHank Williams song “The Angel of Death”), and when WSO came apart, they focused onthis band.
was a mostly acoustic record recorded in one long session that theyreleased on their own, before connecting with Communicating Vessels, which has alsoreleased records by Duquette Johnson and Sanders Bolhke.Even though the first few bars of the first song “Robin Hood”, set my ears to ringing, Iwas soothed the minute I heard Shaw’s soft tenor sing “I want to burn down the buildingsthat steal from the poor/give sight and riches to all those who mourn/sweet angel send methe strength to deny/all the glory I saw in another life.” Lyrics like that and “Everythingthat I haves’ been given to me/so now I’m handing it out for free”, make the metaphor of the modern day Robin Hood seem just right without ever evoking the name except in thetitle. It’s smart, humanistic lyrics like that that make this record tremendous, no matter what its other flaws.The first three songs have more of a rock sound than what follows, but by the third songthings are mellowing out. That song “Let Me Slide” is one of the songs on the first singlefrom the record (backed with “On and On”) and it’s an excellent tune, which reminds memore of Connor Obrest or even Wilco than Radiohead or Pink Floyd. The song builds ona strong drum beat and acoustic strum, to a full orchestra of sound by the end and isawfully well produced, which can be said for the whole thing. The percussion section of finger snaps, hand claps, knee slaps, and I think I hear foot taps, that comes fromnowhere and gradually fills up the end of “10,000 Miles” is masterful and duelingrhythms between the guitar and drum at the beginning of “Simple Things”, slowly dragsthe listener in until everything’s right.