Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tea Leaf Green: "Radio Tragedy!" (2011) CD Review

Fourteen seconds into the first track I fell in love with this band. How is it that no one turned me onto Tea Leaf Green before this? They've released six other studio albums and several live albums, all of which I'm now anxious to hear. They're based in San Francisco, and have been around for thirteen years. How had I remained unaware of them? Well, no matter. I plan to make up for lost time. And I bet these guys put on an amazing live show, if this album is any indication of their spirit and energy.

A lot of so-called jam bands don't seem to appreciate or value good song structure. But these guys are masters of it. Each song stands on its own rather than simply being a jumping-off point for extended improvisation. These studio songs don't sound like abbreviated versions of themselves, like merely teases of what they would be in concert. They are fully developed songs, each with its own feel, its own style. Another thing setting this band apart from a lot of jam bands is that these guys can actually write some damn good lyrics.

"All Washed Up"

The album opens with "All Washed Up," one of the CD's best tracks (if not its very best). It begins with some wonderful percussion, and then kicks in like a strange electronic gypsy carnival. The lyrics start, "I am standing here today/Without a dollar to my name/I've paid my dues," lines many of us can relate to in this economy. And I love these lines: "Everything I own is packed into a trunk/It's at the bottom of the ocean."

The vocals are excellent, and this song makes wonderful use of the backing vocals. On top of it all, you can dance to it. There is a definite reggae influence in the rhythm. "All Washed Up" is catchy and original. And there is an insane manic section in the middle that is simply delicious. Even if the rest of the album were awful, it would be worth owning just for this song.

But the rest of the album is excellent.

"Easy To Be Your Lover"

"Easy To Be Your Lover" opens like a song by The Submarines - just that instrumental intro. Soon it goes into Bee Gees territory for the chorus, a transition it makes with ease and joy. The chorus includes the excellent line, "I could never let another be the man you demand." The song then builds like some of the greatest work by ELO. It's like Tea Leaf Green took some wonderful 1970s influences, and put a modern electronic spin to it. And though its influences are obvious and clear, this song is its own glorious beast.

"You're My Star"

"You're My Star" has one of those great simple driving rhythms that will you have you bobbing your head along with the beat. But it's the other, slower section that reminds me at times of David Bowie, especially on the repeated line, "You're my star." (As a side note, Tea Leaf Green has covered a few David Bowie tunes over the years, including "Starman.")

"My Oklahoma Home"

The album continues to surprise and delight with "My Oklahoma Home," a track very different in sound from the first three songs (though each of those is distinct from the others). This one is a pretty and sweet tune with lines like, "Oh darling, the future's not unknown" and "So throw your lovers and your friends/To the Oklahoma winds."

Okay, I know I may be a bit mad, but this song reminds me a little of The Monkees - like a song that Micky Dolenz would sing, but that Mike Nesmith wrote - in 1969, after Peter Tork left the band. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.

"Fallen Angel"

"Fallen Angel" is a happy, peppy tune with some darn good lyrics. Here is a taste: "Among these fallen angels/You're the only one with wings/And I will grab onto your ankles/As you fly to better things." This song has the best of pop sensibilities, but has both reggae and country rock elements.

"Sleep Paralysis"

"Sleep Paralysis" is driven by acoustic guitar and the vocals. It's an honest and earnest love song (though with a sense of humor as well), and one of the album's best tracks. Check out these lyrics: "You can wake me/You can bring me back/And I can find you/And give you my hand/And say it's all right/It's just a nightmare you had/I will hold you, hold you, hold you, hold you." I absolutely love the repetition of "I will hold you," like a comforting promise the other person needs to hear over and over, or perhaps that he needs to say. And it ends with the lines, "And let it be known/You're never alone."

"Honey Bee"

"Honey Bee" is great country-stomp-rock with some deliciously hokey hand-claps. This song is so much fun, and there is an odd funhouse waltz in the middle of it. "Honey Bee" has such a familiar feel that I was really surprised to learn it's not a cover. This song just instantly seems like an old friend.

"Nothing Changes"

The album concludes with the beautiful "Nothing Changes." From this song comes the album's title, in the line, "And the radio's a tragedy/Of country songs and fuzz." The song also has these lines, "My baby left me yesterday/She packed up all her clothes/She said I will never change." This is another of this album's best songs.

CD Track List

  1. All Washed Up
  2. Easy To Be Your Lover
  3. You're My Star
  4. My Oklahoma Home
  5. Fallen Angel
  6. Sleep Paralysis
  7. Germinating Seed
  8. Honey Bee
  9. The Cottonwood Tree
  10. Arise
  11. Nothing Changes


Tea Leaf Green is Trevor Garrod on vocals and keyboards, Josh Clark on vocals and guitar, Reed Mathis on vocals and bass, Scott Rager on drums, and Cochrane McMillan on drums. Cochrane McMillan is the band's newest member.

Radio Tragedy! is scheduled to be released on June 7, 2011 through Thirty Tigers. Other releases by Tea Leaf Green include Midnight On The Reservoir (2001), Living In Between (2003), Raise Up The Tent (2008) and Looking West (2010).

Tea Leaf Green will be doing a summer tour to support the album. Taping is allowed at most of their shows.

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