Local Yodels #3 The Great Book of John By The Great Book of John Communicating Vessels 8/9/11 When I heard that

the Birmingham band, The Great Book of John would be releasing their sophomore effort on the Birmingham label, Communicating Vessels, I was anxious to hear it, expecting to hear more of the straightforward folk rock that they laid down on Yves Blues 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 electronic sound 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 fact their engineer, Darrell Throp has worked with Radiohead and Beck in the past. You could just as easily compare them to Bright Eyes, Wilco or even Beck, but no matter who you compare them too, the fact is that they have their own sound, and singer-songwriting who 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 Grey’s Anatomy and even 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 the Hank Williams song “The Angel of Death”), and when WSO came apart, they focused on this band. Yves Blues was a mostly acoustic record recorded in one long session that they released on their own, before connecting with Communicating Vessels, which has also released records by Duquette Johnson and Sanders Bolhke. Even though the first few bars of the first song “Robin Hood”, set my ears to ringing, I was soothed the minute I heard Shaw’s soft tenor sing “I want to burn down the buildings that steal from the poor/give sight and riches to all those who mourn/sweet angel send me the strength to deny/all the glory I saw in another life.” Lyrics like that and “Everything that 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 the title. 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 song things are mellowing out. That song “Let Me Slide” is one of the songs on the first single from the record (backed with “On and On”) and it’s an excellent tune, which reminds me more of Connor Obrest or even Wilco than Radiohead or Pink Floyd. The song builds on a strong drum beat and acoustic strum, to a full orchestra of sound by the end and is awfully 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 from nowhere and gradually fills up the end of “10,000 Miles” is masterful and dueling rhythms between the guitar and drum at the beginning of “Simple Things”, slowly drags the listener in until everything’s right.

My only complaint with the production is it seems they’ve done too much to Shaw’s already beautiful voice, layering it and compressing it maybe, I don’t know the technical terms. That said, his vocal performance is one of the high points of the record, really standing out on “Wise Blood” “On and On”, and “Foreign Currency” which begins with a quiet, airy, acoustic guitar interlude that plays throughout the song, while Shaw sings a traveling song about lost love. The other thing that jumps out at you about this record is the songwriting. This young man has the ability to reach inside himself and pull out some fragrant lyrics that he puts together in a clever, alliterative way that simply sounds good to the ear. The song “Wise Blood” has the lyrical density and coying bitterness of some of Dylan’s best songs. I’ve already mentioned “Robin Hood,” which I think should be the single, and the lyrics to “Let Me Slide”, “On and On” and “Foreign Currency” are outstanding. The later reminds me of Leonard Cohen, which is enough said. The rest of the band is superb as well, with Wild Sweet Orange alumni vocalist Bekah Fox, bassist Alex Mitchell, drummer Chip Kilpatrick (who does some outstanding work in building the songs), and keyboardist Garrett Kelly providing a solid background to the strong singing and songwriting of Shaw. The production, which was handled by Jeffery Cain, is thicker than I like, and way overblown in some places (especially on Shaw’s voice), but that’s a personal opinion. In certain spots, like “Let Me Slide” and “10,000 Miles” in particular, the production is right on, but other times I feel it gets in the way of the songs. As for the music and the band, my only complaint would be that Bekah’s vocals, which were so much a part of their earlier recordings, are either buried in the production or absent. I would have loved to hear more of her harmonies. Once again, I’m totally blown away by the talent that lives and works right here in Birmingham and how lucky we are to have two local labels (Communicating Vessels and Skybucket Records) that are consistently releases quality music by mostly local artists. My complaints about the production aside, I think this is a great record that should get this band out on the road and a place on the radio. The band operates as a cohesive unit that seem to fuel Shaw’s lyrics and vocals, just please turn up Bekah’s vocal mic. Coda: Today, in my car I was listening to the final track “Simple Things” and decided to let it run out it’s full 12 minutes or so, running it forward every now and then to get through the dead air, and caught a dreamy little hidden track (a tip of the hat again to the 1990s, I think) which is acoustic and very nice, featuring both some beautiful guitar work my Shaw and gorgeous duet with he and Fox (I got my wish, yet here again, there is too much in the way of vocal effects for me and she’s still a little farther back in the mix than I’d like). With a mix of vaguely religious overtones (which seem to be a feature of his writing) and romantic suggestions, it floats elegantly along for a few minutes, then vanishes as abruptly as it showed up. It’s a nice way to end the record, but they better hope that like me, people haven’t forgotten to look for hidden tracks like they did a few years ago. I almost missed it.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful