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The Squirms, vol. 1 & 2 – God Johnson

God Johnson started out as a musical project. Of course, the group’s initial claim to fame stems from it being what Jason Fladager started following his exit from The Big Wu.

But, Fladager and the other members of GJ didn’t get together with the usual career dynamics in mind — seeking a record deal and/or developing a lucrative touring route. Instead, the primary concern was that it was fun. Minus the pressure of moving up the ladder of success, the players are able to simply enjoy what they come up with and share that with audience members lucky enough to be around. It’s an attempt to be serious at what they do without allowing the situation overwhelm them. Sure, it puts some limitations on what’s possible, but as shown by the release of The Squirms 1 and The Squirms 2 it doesn’t put a damper on the creative process nor does it keep God Johnson from making the results available. The two CDs, released simultaneously, represent a fertile one-two punch of a sophomore effort from the GJ’ers. With 20 songs spread out over the discs, it’s not too surprising to find some stumbles, but, surprisingly, they’re minor and occur on first disc, which is also dubbed “Side A” — phrasing on “Fairytale,” a rhyme scheme running through the so-so “Electric Shoes,” a nod to The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” never leaves my mind during “Doctor”.

On the other hand, “Fairytale” announces a mellow 70s rock vibe that’s immediate with its crisp melodies, gentle harmonies and hooks, hooks and hooks. With the majority of the tracks written by keyboardist Timothy M. Carrow, The Squirms doesn’t stray from that approach as much as it fine tunes it. Oh, being that the albums are being made and released on the GJ’s terms, jams are kept to a minimum throughout, but a live track at the end of each disc — “Waft” and “Triscuit,” each from their weekly regular gig at the Cabooze in Minneapolis reminds listeners that these musicians can stretch matters out with the best of em when the mood strikes. Then, there’s Fladager’s bluegrass stomp, “Half Past One.” Sure, its inclusion sticks out among the rock arrangements, but you kinda just go with its flow for a couple of minutes. Besides, after this brief break we’re treated to the stunning “Potter,” followed by the continued artistic arc of “Fall in Line” and the live “Waft.”

You could think of the second disc or Side B as the leftovers from the Squirms 1 sessions. And you’d be wrong. It starts off strong and doesn’t let up over the next 50 minutes or until the final notes fade away. The nitpicking that could be done on portions of Side A are unnecessary here. Picking a favorite among “Head Inside,” “Long Past Gone,” “Standing There” or any of the other tracks here isn’t possible because they flow together quite comfortably. Together, it makes for a potent argument against those who say that jambands are incapable of writing songs to go along with a penchant for upbeat grooves. With the artistic success of what God Johnson achieve here, and with other jamband acts such as Mr. Blotto hanging around their living rooms rather than cloistered in a bus or hotel room night after night, it certainly puts a crimp in the normal jamband aesthetic of life on the road. Could be the start of a trend where the crowd comes to the band’s town rather than the other way around.

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