(DISCLOSURE: This review fueled by one of the handful of unofficial Midwestern beers of Two Cow Garage, Miller Genuine Draft)
Two Car Garage’s Three creates a ragged, dusty, true-to-life musical recreation of what high school ‘Midwestern life’ used to mean to most of today’s thirtysomethings. Sure, John Cougar Mellencamp’s got the ‘accepted’ audio definition cornered with “Jack and Diane,” but every quarterback and head cheerleader combo was countered with a set of folks straight out of the more stoned half of Dazed and Confused. On this ‘other side,’ guys listened to Bad Company, Triumph and REO Speedwagon (while wearing AC/DC t-shirts) and aspired to get with the girls wearing the tight denim skirts and the foot-high teased hair (girls who, in turn, mostly aspired to be like their big sisters who went off to the big cities to give Blackie Lawless, CC Deville and Rudy Sarzo post-show hummers). Two Car Garage is the soundtrack to that ‘other side.’
Songs like album-opening barroom rocker “Come Back to Shelby” address the age-old conundrum of small town boy-girl relations (“You, Romeo and Juliet / Me, Jack and Diane…You’re short skirts and combat boots / I’m plastic army men / A backyard soldier ‘til death or street lights bring me in”), while others (“The Great Gravitron Massacre”) describe some of the surreal events that make Midwestern life surprisingly absurd. “Camero” goes to great lengths to recreate the nights of young ladies tiptoeing out screen doors with shoes in hand, quietly shuffling to the car at the end of the block with the headlights off and the radio on. There’s a hint of a smile in Micah Schnabel’s voice when he sings, “Park the car / Kill the engine and the headlights / We can talk until it feels right / If my hands can wait that long.”
Outside of the ‘small town’ mentality, a few random tracks stand out with rock credentials all their own. “Camo Jacket” is a fantastic three-minute blast of Spoon-meets-The Replacements, while “Now I Know” frolics in two minutes of honkytonk piano with a drunken Rolling Stones hitch to it.
All in all, though, the album’s got a fractured quality of redemption woven throughout. Schnabel’s gruff, remorseful vocals laid it out best on the ultra-catchy “No Shame”: “There’s a guitar leaning on my wall / The instrument of my ultimate downfall / And notebooks scattered all over my floor / Six hundred pages all filled with regrets / And hundreds of songs that ain’t finished yet / And a job application getting harder to ignore / There ain’t no shame in just giving up and walking away.”
A few songs later, in the acoustic lament “Should’ve California,” Schnabel carries on, crooning that he “Should’ve gone to college and made a lot of money … I should’ve been blue collar like my father / Bustin’ knuckles…I shouldn’t be wasting all of my time in these basement bars with this rock and roll band.”
Everything falls into place properly on the intense closer, “Postcards and Apologies,” as Schnabel scribbles imaginary notes from the road to those he loves, pleading that, “Maybe I’m a bastard / Just like you said / And all this rock and roll bullshit has gone to my head.” Eventually, he puts it together to realize that while, “Someday I’ll come home to write all my wrongs / But postcards and apologies are where I belong” before the group torches the record with flares of lead guitar and crazed one-note piano pounding.
… and sadly enough, this is where too many stories end. See, Two Cow Garage is nothing more than a handful of guys who all grew up in the same podunk Ohio town that all remember the time in high school that the Gravitron malfunctioned at the local carnival, flinging 13 people out of the top of the ride as it fell apart. There are gaggles of these bands out there – the type where the guys involved bonded over stolen six-packs and maligned 70’s rock, eventually picking up instruments to bang out tunes about sneaking out to get lucky while Roger Daltrey sang over the radio. These are the type of guys who are most likely to make a record (maybe two), tour once or twice and then call it a day to go back to the small town and whatever factory job awaits. Praise be to the powers above that Two Cow Garage shrugged off doubts and keeps trudging on, as the gritty Three is easily one of the hardest-hitting records to date in 2007.