Taking One For the Cause
They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and that is exactly what Greg Laswell did. He took a sledgehammer to the heart (his wife left him without warning) and, after a time, pieced together some of the best music you'll maybe never hear. For Laswell, it was therapy and healing and all of those other things people talk about on those daytime talk shows, and it worked. Not only did he come out of the tunnel, he brought with him eleven pop gems. And as heartless as this may sound, it makes me wish more wives would hit the road.
The CD opens with a short intro a la violin on noisy vinyl and is quickly overtaken by upbeat pop brush strokes underpinning Laswell's textured voice singing Go to sleep while I gather all my things/And I will call you in a couple of days/I can hear the June bugs approaching/A Goddamn army of them in my brain, the lyrics phrased in such a way that you know this is not a happy time. Set yourself. You're on the edge of the various steps of dealing with traumatic breakup. What are they? Denial? Acceptance? Barbeque and beer? Who knows? More important, who cares? When it happens, the bottom falls out and nothing can fix it but time. Luckily, Laswell used his time well.
The army of June bugs is a tribute to his grandmother who used to tell him to sing of happy things. Destroyed emotionally, Laswell makes a heartfelt promise to do just that--- when the wounds have healed. “Sing, Theresa Says” is the future, he is saying, knowing that Nana Theresa is right, even though nothing feels right anymore.
Switching gears, light power pop grasps at the end of the process--- the acceptance. “Drove by my life the other day/It looked like it was over/Since you went away/But I am a day older”. The overamped but calm rhythm guitar along with the melody makes “Amazed” a dichotomy in that the heart still bleeds, but that is part of the appeal here. Laswell has this uncanny way of laying rock hooks on top of trauma without losing the feeling.
“Worthwhile” is a great example of just that. Power chords pound exuberantly, but listen to the words and you hear that this is a cry for help, a reliance on friends. The ending is classic, a wall of Laswell Sound, if you will, as it blends perfectly with his pleas.
Laswell is an exceptional singer/songwriter, if that is how you would classify Jackson Browne, as “Do What I Can” and “High and Low” show. Slower, more introspective, he touches upon the pain itself, the obsession with a love gone but still alive. His voice shines as he sings “I look high and low /for yesterday/High and low/For you and I” and you can almost hear the tears inside. Then, as quickly as he bleeds, he tosses it aside in “Same As You” wherein he looks inward trying to figure things out. Again, great harmonies and melody lines make great pop, but the break is wall-of-sound fantastic!
There is a reason that the album is titled “Through Toledo” and you hear it in Laswell's voice(s) and phrasing as he takes you into his confidence in 6/8 time. The piano is letter perfect beneath his musing thoughts of a much needed trip up the Pacific Coast, a yearning for things to pass. His unerring sense of harmony makes his textured voice magic in the chorus and you can hear that he has got something here, for sure. A great track.
Power-poppers should love “I'm Hit”, which pounds out chords with a grunger's vengeance and, again, has those now familiar harmonies in the chorus. This is headslap music: “What has been going on in that mind/what have you gotta say/I've gotta mark this down, mark this down/I'm hit with all of the times you said 'fine'/and daylight burns in a way I've never felt till now, felt till now”. Again, the wall of Laswell sound. Whew.
Hey, look, there are three more songs here and they're really good, but let me make a point here. Laswell has a way of laying outstanding vocals over power rhythms in a unique way. Every time I listen, I am amazed at his ability to capture solid guitar pop while dealing with loss. He loved his wife. I can feel it. But he loves his music too. I can hear it.
With a few small exceptions, Greg Laswell played everything on this album. It is not an easy thing to do. He laid himself on the line for his art, or maybe he put it together unconscious of its worth and was amazed at what was there at the end. What would that be? Paying your dues? I think he may have some change coming back.