The title of this non-search engine-friendly album by veteran garage-rockers The Greenhornes is four star symbols in a row. While this title might be misinterpreted as a rating, that mistake would be understandable given the strength of this music.
Inasmuch as the Greenhornes are known, they are perhaps best known as the band from which bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler were poached when Jack White and Brendan Benson assembled The Raconteurs. However, their history extends as far back as 1996, when the band frequently played around the Greater Cincinnati area, and released its debut, Gun For You in 1999. Musically, The Greenhornes never strayed far from the garages and basements of mid-1960s America, where three chords and a broken heart could reliably yield distilled, high-octane rock and roll. The riffs and lyrical ideas weren’t exactly groundbreaking, but because the music was pure and primal, this could be easily overlooked.
With the release of 2001’s Dual Mono, the Greenhornes were poised for a broader audience. Even then, Jack White often name-checked the band in interviews as one of his favorite acts. Dual Mono delivered too, boasting a lean, muscular sound that disregarded much of the previous thirty-five years of music history that preceded it. However, after a string of live shows and an uneven EP, the band went silent. With the Raconteurs becoming an ongoing concern, one could be forgiven for thinking the band had simply vanished.
Now, nine years later, ★★★★ finds the band in a similar vein, which is to say that, while certainly derivative, few complaints can be made about the quality of this music. Reduced to a three-piece, Lawrence and Keeler rejoin singer/guitarist Craig Fox for an album that expands the overall sound of the band, but still draws little inspiration from music that was created after the Johnson Administration.
The new component to the Greenhornes’ sound is psychedelia, most evident in tracks like “Cave Paintings” and the unsettling “Go Tell Henry.” Elsewhere, the band finds ample muses in The Kinks and psych-era Stones, as songs like “Get Me Out Of Here” and “Better Off Without It” demonstrate an expanded palate of pop hooks. The rest of the album is filled with capable garage rave-ups, allowing Fox’s perfectly adequate (but never slick) vocals to drive songs about girls and how much it can hurt when they leave, a subject matter that needs no updating for modern times.
★★★★ will find a happy home with fans of Jack White projects and the neo-garage scene that percolated in the early 2000s. White’s earlier praise of the band is not inflated, and there’s little surprise that he was able to create his own successful results with Lawrence and Keeler. Overall, music must ultimately progress, but spending a little time with the Greenhornes is as good a choice as any when seeking out the immediate, tube amp-driven sounds of the past.