BY MARY LEARY
If the other titles on Conor Oberst’s Team Love label are anything like Last Good Tooth’s first full-length, I’ve been missing some enriching sounds. Although I’m initially given some pause by Penn Sultan’s raspy, conversational vocals, the group’s melodic sensibility, consistently restrained mix, and minimally adorned craft subsume my hesitation. By the last third of opener “Look What I Made,” I’m in the band’s palm. As with another highlight, “EEEEEE,” every note seems to be grounded in instinct. Well-crafted compositions are leavened by chunky punctuation, hand claps, and emphatic acoustic guitar strums. Traditional bluegrass instruments (acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle) twine seamlessly with bass, drums, and inspired effects; resulting in dynamic textures that could sustain interest from Mercies, St. Even, and Kevin Ayers fans.
Not Without Work and Rest often belies Last Good Tooth’s offhand promo blurb, which says the band “…came together like many bands do, as teenagers, smoking grass and aping their favorite band of the moment…”. These guys have audio stories to tell. And, as often happens, I’m fairly ineffectual at sharing whatever those may be; tending to respond more to audio feelings, textures, and structures than to words. I’m certainly not straining to hear the syllables between LGT’s often delectable mix of plinking banjos, chattering or thundering percussion, and my reliable friend; silence.
Lapses in my enthusiasm are related to instances that recall my original LGT resistance. On “Gambling,” for instance, Sultan’s rasp suffers from lack of instrumental softening and compositional shifts, resulting in a sound that’s harsh or just overly emphatic – too much of an unbalanced thing. On a couple additional tracks, the band seems to forget that a live ambiance build tends to differ from the remote listening experience – exemplified by “To Whatever” – while pleasant, it meanders into Dullville before coming to an abrupt halt.
Maybe herbal substances are still on LGT’s mutual grocery list. It might explain why almost all of the best songs are on the album’s first half. Which makes single downloads pretty easy: I’m confident in recommending tracks one-five.
While any or all of the best Not Without Work and Rest tracks will be folded into mixes for myself and others, I’m hoping for future recordings with more group or alternate vocals. LGT seems to have the instincts, musical leanings, creativity and chemistry to transcend its New England-based popularity; turning out albums likely to take the band considerably further.
DOWNLOAD: “Look What I Made,” “What’s What I Do,” “EEEEE,” “Could You Read,” “Some Kind of Pair”