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Published: 2004/01/27
by Brian Gearing

Living In Between – Tea Leaf Green

self-released

Jambands are (often deservedly) notorious in rock-writer circles for being
big on chops and small on songcraft, but Bay Area upstarts Tea Leaf Green's
second studio album, Living In Between, shatters the previously held
assumptions about what exactly a jamband is. Were it not for their
jam-friendly technical abilities and homegrown marketing strategy, Tea Leaf
Green could just as well find itself on adult contemporary FM radio
alongside John Mayer and Dave Matthews; but the Frisco foursome hasn't
completely abandoned its hippie roots.

Keyboardist and principal songwriter Trevor Garrod's childishly playful yet
resonant lyrics are at once whimsical and transcendental. Sung by anyone
else, songs like "Beehive" might seem trite, but Garrod's delivery exudes
absolute confidence in his craft. Stronger than most shaky-throated jamband
vocalists, his voice bears an uncanny resemblance to the singer-songwriters
of the 70s: James Taylor, Jackson Browne and particularly Paul Simon, with
whom Garrod shares not only a voice, but a lyrical and rhythmic sense.

Both "Bootlegger" and "Las Vegas" exhibit Garrod's Simon-esque wordplay,
mixing off-rhymes and free association with an underlying celebration of the
paradoxically profound trivialities of everyday life. Both songs' multi-part
harmonies lend beauty and depth to the already solid tracks, and while
lyrics like "Bootlegger little maker / You're a carpet bagging mouse trap
baiter" might make a nonsensical couplet, when taken in the context of the
idiosyncrasies of the jamband scene, they're a perfectly off-beat sketch of
a quirky, offbeat community.

Like those of his forebears, Garrod's voice often falls short on intensity,
but the stellar musicianship of his bandmates, particularly guitarist Josh
Clark, amply picks up the slack. On tracks like "Kali-Yuga," Clark's almost
telepathic guitar injections kickstart the gently rocking tracks into a
roaring frenzy: it's easy to understand the hype TLG's live show has
garnered. While the songs themselves aren't particularly aggressive, their
solid rock and roll foundation is the perfect launching pad for Clark's
raging solos. For the most part, Living In Between stays relatively
grounded in the standard verse-chorus-solo tradition, but a few tracks, like
"Ben C's Warmup" and "Garden II," push Garrod's compositions into a slightly
wider orbit with a broader view of the band's musical horizons.

For the most part, however, Tea Leaf Green concentrate on songwriting and
leave the instrumental fireworks for the live show. Garrod's subtly
powerful vocal delivery and lyrically rich tunes blend with Clark's ferocity
to create something that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
They are an anomaly in an often formulaic world of self-indulgence and
over-compensation. Tea Leaf Green write good songs, energized with
controlled, precise jamming that enhances rather than detracts from the
songs' perfect simplicity: explorations are built around songs, not the
other way around. Tea Leaf Green still retain some of the quirkiness of a
stereotypical jamband, but there is much more to this quartet than inside
jokes and wacky cover songs. Their unique blend of instrumental and lyrical
gifts will appeal to mainstream listeners as well, and if the album catches
on, they could indeed find themselves living in between two very different
worlds.

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