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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1599

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Good Old War by George Graham

(Sargent House 038 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/2/2010)

The concept of "acoustic rock" seems like something of an oxymoron. But it's been around in various forms for a long time. To pull it off usually requires a degree of creativity or cleverness. This week we have a good example of an acoustic rock band that has both traits, along with a rather appealing musical persona. The group is called Good Old War, and that is also the title of their new, second album.

Good Old War are a trio from the Philadelphia area and is essentially a kind of musical restart for two of members. Daniel Goodwin and Tim Arnold were in a band called Days Away, described as a progressive rock band, who were together for some ten years and had a major label release. But after that band fell apart, Goodwin and Arnold decided to change direction drastically and go folky on a new project. In a way it was a kind of musical homecoming for Goodwin, since he grew up a family of music fans -- his father used to love to sing vocal harmonies doing Simon & Garfunkel and Beatles songs. Surrounded by that, Goodwin started writing songs at age 12. But he turned to punk rock and 1990s pop to form his first band, and right after high school moved to Southern California, and soon found success with Days Away, who were eventually joined by Goodwin's high school friend, drummer Tim Arnold.

After the dissolution of Days Away, with its variously changing personnel, and Goodwin's return to his hometown, Goodwin and Arnold recruited another long-time musical friend, guitarist Dan Schwartz from the band Unlikely Cowboy. They searched for a name for their acoustic group, and took fragments of each of their surnames -- GOODwin, ArnOLD, and SchWARtz, to come up with Good Old War. They recorded various EPs and downloadable singles, before releasing their first CD Only Way to Be Alone in 2009, recording in Los Angeles.

For their new CD, the band handled their own production and recorded it literally in a friend's basement, and partly in Goodwin's parents' house. The result is a great combination of unpretentious music that balances the right combination of down-home, garage-band sensibility with good musicianship and winsome vocals. The writing is intelligent and sometimes surprisingly multi-layered, and the musical ingredients are an interesting mix. Goodwin cites among his influences the Afro-Pop band Zap Mama, plus Bob Marley, Paul Simon and Harry Nilsson. One can hear all of that in the new CD.

The band credits all songs as being joint compositions by all three. The material is succinct -- 15 tracks time at under 35 minutes. Only two songs last longer than three minutes. And there are three short interludes titled Good, Old, and War.

Good opens the CD with some of that African influence, with almost Beach-Boys-like harmonies. <<>>

My Own Sinking Ship is a good example of Good Old War's clever writing. It's a kind of uncertain love song with an alternative-folk tinge. <<>>

One of the highlights of the CD is Making My Life. It's an unabashed love song, with distinct tropical overtones. The lyrics are perhaps autobiographical for Goodwin, last year having married his sweetheart since sixth grade. <<>>

Some of Good Old War's lyrics are not nearly as bright and sunny as their music often is. Sneaky Louise is about a woman with a serious problem, stealing or begging family for money presumably to feed a drug habit. <<>>

The band actually uses a little electric guitar on a couple of the tracks. One is a piece called Get Some, which is another song about someone in trouble. <<>>

On the other hand, evoking the folk-rock days of the 1960s is a great love song called While I'm Away. <<>>

Woody's Hood Boogie Woogie is an example of the way the band can sometimes contrast happy music with sad lyrics. The track has a Bo Diddley beat and peppy harmonies as the words relate the story of misfortune and people's reaction to it. <<>>

There are also a couple of track that are mostly solo. Keith Goodwin shows his Paul Simon influence on My Name Sorrow. It's another nicely-done love song with a bit of a twist. <<>>

Good Old War the new second release by the Philadelphia area trio of the same name is a clever and appealing acoustic rock album by a group that has a lot of charm. They create intelligent, lyrically interesting songs with a surprisingly wide set of influences, and they combine a kind of unpretentious, youthful, seemingly informal sound with a good level of musicianship.

For our sound quality grade, we'll give this very home-made recording close to an "A." The band pretty much recorded it themselves with some mixing help, and the result is impressive. It's not really a high-end audiophile recording, but it's clean, open and unfettered by excessive studio effects which a lot of artists recording their own albums sometimes do. Dynamic range is not bad for a rock album.

Good Old War is probably not going to be the "album of the decade," in terms of its artistic innovation, but it's definitely a recording that will grow on you, and one you'll probably find yourself going back to time and again.

(c) Copyright 2010 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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