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Published: 2010/08/16
by Sam Robertson

Tea Leaf Green
Looking West

Self-released

In the past Tea Leaf Green’s studio albums have always been raw sounding, like a live show minus improvisation and their powerful live energy. That began to change on their last album, Raise Up The Tent, which had a bigger, more refined rock and roll sound and saw the band taking advantage of the studio for the first time with layered instruments and even vocal distortions on one track. With their new album, Looking West, it’s clear that Tea Leaf Green have learned how to record a studio album and take full advantage of the experimental opportunities that a studio offers. In fact, if there is one complaint to make about Looking West, it is that they may have had too much fun playing with studio toys. During my first couple minutes of listening, questions like “What on earth have they done to Trevor Garrod’s voice and why are they trying to mimic robots with the backing vocals?” were the first thoughts in my mind. Trevor’s voice, earthy but smooth like an angel’s, was one of the things that first drew me to Tea Leaf Green, and the studio effects on the vocals are a little jarring at first.

But my annoyance at the vocal effects disappeared as the first song, “Looking West,” approached the five-minute mark. By the time Josh Clark throws in a twangy slide guitar solo while Reed Mathis’ booming basslines and Scott Rager’s tight drumming push the tempo in the leadoff track “Looking West,” the listener is guaranteed to be enjoying the album. Bassist Reed Mathis produced Looking West along with Garrod, and some of the production such as the vocal effects, wind chimes on “Rattlin’” and the hippie infused chanting at the end of the title track are somewhat unnecessary and overindulgent. But the group did use the studio to its full potential, so while some of their exploratory ideas fall flat, many of them do work (on “Bouncin’ Betty” in particular) and make this album very different from anything the band has ever created before.

This is the band’s second album with Reed Mathis, and finds Reed not only fitting in, but also leading the band. His bass playing is powerfully upfront, and on a few songs he takes the spotlight with a solo, or trading flurries of notes with guitarist Josh Clark. Mathis is the kind of musician who makes everyone around him better, and it’s a treat to hear him lead these songs in new, refreshing directions.

Lead guitarist Josh Clark also shines on this album as a songwriter and contributing four foot-stomping rockers to Looking West. Trevor Garrod has always been the primary songwriter for Tea Leaf Green, but Clark’s songs shine, especially “Jackson Hole,” which is a great, badass rock and roll song. Clark’s guitar playing is restrained on the album compared to Tea Leaf Green’s live performance but he still lets loose on the boozy rocker “Jackson Hole” and the manic Rage Against the Machine-influenced protest song “Bouncin’ Betty.” Garrod’s compositions are mostly slower ballads full of gorgeous natural imagery, and contrast well with Clark’s high- energy rockers.

All of the songs of Looking West have been staples in Tea Leaf Green’s live repertoire for years, from before Reed Mathis even joined the band, and Tea Leaf Green was faced with the challenge of making these road-tested songs sound new. They made an effort to take advantage of the studio, and it’s exciting to hear the band reinvent these great songs so freshly and effectively. Looking West combines brilliant songwriting with the tight musicianship Tea Leaf Green has become known for, and although the band may always be at their best live, this album finds Tea Leaf Green at a creative peak and crafting some of the finest rock and roll out there.

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