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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1680

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Good Old War: Come Back as Rain
by George Graham

(Sargent House 072 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/4/2012)

There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy among emerging rock bands. Many take the direction of alternative rock with a strongly electric, even aggressive sound. There's another school that is just as determined to go in a more laid back, acoustic, folky or melodic direction, and they are becoming increasingly common. This week we have the latest recording by a first-rate Philadelphia-based trio whose sound has nary an electric guitar, and whose penchant for strong vocal harmonies is ever present in their sound. They call themselves Good Old War, and their new third CD is titled Come Back as Rain.

The name Good Old War comes from bits of the surnames of each of the members, Keith GOODwin, Tim ArnOLD, and Dan SchWARtz. The association of Keith Goodwin and Tim Arnold goes back well over a decade when they were in a progressive rock band called Days Away, that had a major label recording contract. That band was together for some 10 years, but after it dissolved, Goodwin more or less went back to his musical roots and decided to change direction and adopt a folky sound along with Arnold. Goodwin's father played and sang to Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel records around the house as Goodwin was growing up. The younger Goodwin started writing songs at age 12, but then turned to punk rock, and then the progressive rock of Days Away, before peeling off in the folk direction. After Days Away, Goodwin and Arnold recruited long-time friend and guitarist Dan Schwartz to join them and Good Old War was formed. They recorded a number of downloadable singles, and then released their debut CD in 2009, which they recorded in Los Angeles. The following year, they worked in a home studio to come up with their 2010 eponymous release, Good Old War which we previuosly featured in this series.

Now they are out with Come Back as Rain, and for this recording, they went to Omaha to record where there is a growing independent rock scene. This CD has a more polished sound than their last, but the music remains honest and unpretentious. Like their last album in 2010, the songs on Come Back as Rain are rather short, in the pop music pattern, and the 11-song recording clocks in at under 40 minutes. The writing, all claimed by all three members, is consistently high in quality for the style, with the topics often being complicated or uncertain love affairs. This is very much a self-contained album, with just the three members supplying all the instruments. Arnold is the one who plays the drums when there are drums on the songs, otherwise, it's acoustic guitars pretty much all the way, with bass and some keyboards.

The CD opens with Over and Over whose vocal harmonies can be reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel back in the day. It shows the band's penchant for love songs about less-than-perfect relationships. But it's a got a thoroughly appealing sound. <<>>

Calling Me Names is another song showing the band's ability to come up with appealingly melodic songs that have interesting little twists both musically and lyrically. <<>>

Good Old War does a couple of tunes on the CD minus drums, giving an even-more folky sound. Amazing Eyes is another song with lyrics that are not quite what you might expect. <<>>

One of the most outright likable songs on the album is Better Weather a happy-sounding tune with lyrics that express optimism and hope. <<>>

Not Quite Happiness is another song showing Good Old War's inventive lyric-writing, while the music stays interesting in a waltz time. <<>>

The band does a trick occasionally used by others -- creating a song with a bouncy tune but sad lyrics. The example here is called It Hurts Every Time. <<>>

Good Old War can show a little country influence at times. After the Party is another upbeat tune that has rather bittersweet lyrics. <<>>

The CD ends with another of its highlights, a further interesting love song called Present for the End of the World, full of the band's pleasing folky sound. <<>>

Come Back As Rain the new third CD by the Philadelphia-based trio Good Old War, is the band's best yet. Their appealing, melodic folky mix with an almost entirely acoustic sound, strong vocal harmonies, and often clever lyric writing, makes for great listening, with a kind of friendly feel-good quality, without ever crossing over in the zone of being too sweet. Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold and Dan Schwartz have been honing their craft for about three years now, and they have developed into a tight musical unit not only by great vocal harmonies but tasteful instrumental work with all the instruments performed by the group.

Our grade for audio quality is close to an "A." This CD has a more sonic polish than their last, home-made recording, but the studio effects this time are held in check, including the compression. So the recording has some dynamic range. The vocal harmonies are mixed well.

This kind of folky melodic pop has been around for decades, since the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. And the sound receives periodically revivals by successive generations of groups on the scene. Perhaps these melodic popsters are a reaction to post alternative rock grunge or processed electronic commercial pop, but for whatever reason, there seem to be more of them these days. Good Old War are carrying on the tradition while putting their own spin on it, and doing it very well.

(c) Copyright 2012 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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