Out this week on Jack
White’s Third Man label, **** (aka “Four
Stars”) finds the Cincy trio leaner and meaner, almost to the point of
reinvention, as they refine their garage-psych vision. Just four stars? Shit,
we’ll give it at least eight!
By John Schacht
With their moonlighting gig in the Raconteurs having morphed
into a full-time job for 2/3 of the Greenhornes, the Cincinnati trio’s first full-length of
original material since 2002 is more than just a reminder of how overlooked
this act was in the garage revival of the early oughts. It’s also compelling
evidence that their residency with the guy responsible for most of the
overshadowing – The White Stripes’ Jack White — has made them even better.
Listen to “Better Off Without It” from the album.
Packed into tidy two- and three-minute dosages that always
seem just the right duration, the dozen songs on Four Stars take a step back from the Yardbirds/MC5 formula of
earlier Greenhornes. The songs are still rooted in the same British
Invasion-meets-Middle America garage vibe, but now they’re more apt to embrace,
say, the melodious surge of The Beatles (“Saying Goodbye,” which sounds like a Revolver cut) or even the trippy
psychedelia of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (“Go Tell Henry”). The band’s earlier
touchstones are still here in the Yardbirds-flavored riff that buttresses
“Need Your Love,” the early Kinks-power chords of “Underestimator,” or the
garage rave-up “Left the World Behind,” which even tips its cap to Them’s
garage rock anthem “Gloria” by lifting the chord pattern. But between the
early records and now, the band has figured out how to put more of its own
stamp on these influences.
You really hear that on the best tracks here, like the
organ-coated, syncopated “Better Off Without It,” which channels its blue-eyed
soul into the best Box Tops song Alex Chilton forgot to write; or in the
snaking guitar lines and toms-thunder of “Cave Drawings,” cousin to Canada’s
psychedelic cowboys, the Sadies; or “Jacob’s Ladder,” whose influence eschews
early Kinks for Ray Davies’ golden era, sounding like “A Well-Respected Man”
run through the Easybeats or “Paint It Black” Stones. Throughout, there’s
attention paid to melody and songcraft that trumps earlier Greenhornes’
efforts. Four Stars takes you back to
the music that actually is classic from the 60s, Nuggets tracks and deep catalog superstar psychedelia that
blissfully blots out the played-out dinosaurs of the Baby Boomer-dilettante
How ‘bout eight instead.