The Literary Greats, Ocean, Meet The Valley

The Literary Greats, Ocean, Meet The Valley

As soon as the first rough-edged, blues-rock guitar lick of “That Mountain Yonder” comes in, after a sneakily low-key verse, it’s pretty clear that for their second album, Ocean, Meet The Valley, The Literary Greats weren’t content to keep meandering along the same path they were on back on their self-titled debut. Not that the band’s changed things up that much from the last outing — no crazy time signatures or growly vocals, don’t worry — but they’ve amped up their previously fairly laid-back, somehow unmistakably Texan-sounding country-pop, turning up the guitars, making things heavier and meatier-sounding, and pulling in a lot more of both the rock and country side of things.

The result is a smart, beautifully well-written bunch of songs with the same intricate lyricism as songwriter Brandon Elam’s earlier stuff that are much more in-your-face and raw and energetic than they probably would’ve been a year or so ago. Where the last album was a lazy afternoon/quiet night spent spinning out songs in somebody’s comfy living room, Ocean, Meet The Valley is a boozy, loose-limbed, cares-to-the-wind roll through the bars. It’s the sound of a band that’s gotten comfortable enough with itself to cut loose and show their teeth, and that’s definitely a good thing.

“Happens Every Time” is probably the furthest from the band’s folk-y leanings, a slow, deliberate stomp that reminds me of a mellowed-down Black Crowes, murky and bitter and raging all at once, with bassist Darin Lee providing a low-slung, rubbery groove seemingly ripped straight from the Fat Albert theme song. When that guitar comes slashing in, you’d be forgiven for thinking somebody else must’ve slipped a different band’s disc in the CD player.

My personal favorite on here, though, has to be “Show Me the Coast,” which sails along cheerfully with a drifting, sweet-hearted vibe until it hits the break and crashes upon the rocks with an overdriven, chiming drone of a guitar riff. It’s the best track on Ocean, for my money, not least of all because it showcases how the Literary Greats are able to effortlessly incorporate indie-rock-sounding bits into what are, at their core, countrified pop songs. “Oh Abilene,” for its part, wins points not only for its burly, thick-sounding country-blues crunch, but also for Kris Becker’s downright funky, Stevie Wonder-esque keys (listen close; I swear they’re lurking in the background, and they freaking rule) and that nice minor-key shift that derails things just a teeny, tiny bit from where you think the song’s headed.

There are echoes of the first album on a few songs, particularly “Dreadnought,” which I can’t help but compare to “Thundercloud to Peru” — possibly for the airplane imagery, I’ll admit. The track meanders gently ’til the chorus, where the band bumps along with a jaunty sort of joy, the song itself seemingly lodged in their (and mine, to boot) collective heart. A high point on the quieter side of things is “The Black Bee,” with its delicate, soft, Cat Stevens-like unfolding; it sounds like a classic song you’ve heard a million times but can’t necessarily place, even though it cuts you deep. Elam’s created a new benchmark for himself with this one, I swear.

Unfortunately, Ocean crumbles a bit past the halfway mark. Bury-the-hatchet missive “Emily’s Enemies” and the slinky, dance-y “Ruby Sapphire” are good but not mind-blowing (for the latter, I never thought somebody’d talk about their “Kenny Rogers” and make it sound like a euphemism for something dirty, but there it is), although the band salvages things with the beautiful, tropicalia-inflected breeze of “Ocean Waves” and the harmonica-heavy country-folk jubilation of “Hill Country Queen.” Still, it’s hard to top the preceding six tracks — I have a feeling they’re going to be on infinite repeat in my CD player for a good long while. At least, until the band comes back with their next release and blows me away yet again.

[The Literary Greats are playing their CD release party 11/14/09 at The Continental Club, along with Elkhart.]
(self-released; The Literary Greats --

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, November 11th, 2009. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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2 Responses to “The Literary Greats, Ocean, Meet The Valley

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » The Literary Greats on July 8th, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    […] three awesomely-done full-lengths so far: 2007′s self-titled debut; 2009′s Ocean, Meet the Valley; and 2011′s Black Blizzard. While they do take substantial breaks every once in a while […]

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Buxton + The Literary Greats + Biscuit Bombs + Glitch Mob + Alps + Sarah Jaffe + More on October 19th, 2012 at 10:09 am

    […] psyched about the Greats — spent a few hours recently listening to both Black Blizzard and Ocean, Meet the Valley, actually, and re-remembering why I like ‘em so damn much. Sweet, smart songs with a little […]

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