Taught To Be Proud – Tea Leaf Green
Greenhouse Records 80119-01221-2
Despite Tea Leaf Green's continued existence for the past seven or so years, the Bay Area outfit has recently attained Next Big Shit status, at least in what Richard Gehr once described as our "separate but equal universe." Hot on the heels of this marginally mystical achievement comes Taught to Be Proud. It’s not hard to see Tea Leaf Green’s appeal: they’re preternaturally easygoing dudes. At least, that’s what their music suggests. And, after all, who doesn’t wanna get with that? Give or take occasional bouts of introspection, it’s — on the whole — utterly carefree music.
The band's deepest genetic structure recalls the Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky," each of keyboardist Trevor Garrod's dozen songs carving out some fundamental variation on that pastoral vibe. His boyish tenor aids this end. And, while the songs are alright, the band's real talent is in creating a sense of place. Suggesting a Phish jam, the title cut opens up into a vast space that compresses a lot of dramatic ground into a short time. "5,000 Acres," a glacially paced swamp escape, is the disc's most notable performance. "Five thousand acres burn," Garrod sings in some charmed Gram Parsons-channeled twist of mourning, before guitarist Josh Clark snaps the band into arena hippie overdrive.
Tea Leaf Green's tricks are purely musical. That is, if Taught To Be Proud isn’t being performed by a live band, the music was at least created for one and recorded to further this illusion. While it’s a fine sounding recording, there are nearly no concessions for studio trickery. On "5,000 Acres" (and the rest of the album), the details (and the devil) are all in the real-time fills, the chord shadings (Garrod’s thoughtful piano), and arrangement tricks (staticy guitar sustains hanging beneath the final verse).
To say that Tea Leaf Green songs are only excuses to jam is to sell the band far short, but each song seems designed, at least, to be played in front of an audience, preferably of the ecstatic variety. "Morning Sun" barrels into an undeniable chorus designed for maximum cheerage: "I like the good times / I like the funk" and a verse that promises "a storm on the dance floor." On the opening "The Garden (part III)," Garrod declares he's "got a little bit of soul" and a "little bit of rock and roll" in his bones.
Elsewhere, though, Garrod proves a capable (and promising) lyricist. "I was conceived by manuals, by articles, and books," he sings evocatively on "If It Wasn't For The Money." Notably, he often stretches non-rhyming phrases over his elastic melodies, which gives Tea Leaf Green's songs a healthy sense of unpredictability, making even not-great lyrics seem worthy of thought.
Even at its biggest peaks, such as the squealing guitars that finish off the title track, there's a pervasively mellow vibe, which I suppose can be ascribed to their left coast origins and a lot of heady Phish listening sessions. It's a perfectly unique selling point. If Taught To Be Proud isn’t the new great jamband album, it’s a solid advertisement for Tea Leaf Green’s future and a detailed blueprint for maturity to come. Conceived by manuals, indeed.