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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The House Popes

Cleaning House

Review by Steve Alspach

You can argue who the best band is in America, but few are better educated than Akron, Ohio's Housepopes, who sport three Ph.D's, an MD, and a few other scattered degrees amongst the ranks. But musically they are very much rooted in the common - a curious mix of rock, roots, Americana, pop, a tinge of new wave, and that sense of quirkiness that seems indigenous to the Akron area. (Same town that brought us Devo, so what do you expect?) Cleaning House is the 'Popes first album after five years of performing around the Akron area.

The band consists of: Ken Bindas, vocals, acoustic guitar, and mandolin; Michael Graham, vocals, guitars, and mandolin; Tony Sterns, bass, electronic woodwind instrument, and backing vocals; Joe Falen, drums and percussion; Eric Jagar, saxophone; Scott Randolph, accordion, harmonica, trombone, and tin whistle; and Rob Thompson, guitar and banjo.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Across the Floor
The tale of two people on the run in the night gets an appropriate treatment on this. The song is slow but not too hokey or dramatic.
Star Tonight
This song runs between major and minor modes, and the accordion in the background could be brought up a bit more. This track goes into an 11/4 break in the middle, but the break is rather short. This is to the song's benefit, though - the band could do a Dead-like exploration on this, or keep it short and sweet as they did here.
Jolene
Why do I get the image of the English Beat on this one? Perhaps it's Eric Jagar's sax work on this, or the riffing during the verses, but it's an energetic tune, and one sure to fill a dance floor.
Give Me Things
A bouncy bit of pop, but the lyrics have a slightly dark tone to them, including the enigmatic chorus ("Give me things that I can use / But I can't look you in the eye.")
Sunrise
Again, another good balance here - the lyrics are philosophical without being too esoteric or naval gazing. Michael Graham's mandolin gets prominent attention on this song.
The Bones Know
Michael Graham set this track to a poem by Randy Sterns. The result is a friendly, funk-pop tune.
Standing in the Light
The main riff sounds like Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door," but the song then goes into a ska-flavored rock mode with Eric Jagar joining in the mix. Graham's solo in the bridge is especially catchy.
Mystery Box
Eric Jagar's sax work is tastefully done on this folk-rocker.
Mark Twain
One of those songs that was written either on a whim or under some sort of chemical influence. It's all in fun, though, with its nonsense lyrics and double-time tempo. "Mark Twain rent-a-cat," indeed.
On Another Plain
This song truly is on another plain - lyrically, anyway. With the accordion and what sounds like a whistle in the background, this one has a slight maritime-type flavor to it.
Tom and Suzanne
Perhaps the most Dylanesque song on the album, lyrically with its tale of redemption between two individuals, and Scott Randolph on harmonica.
Linger On
The verses are in a mid-tempo, but the chorus turns things up a notch, and the sax again comes into play.
 
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