January 1999

The Great Western Squares - Almost Sober
blunt/Independent Records blunt 002
Released: 1998

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]Anyone familiar with my musings and ramblings about music is aware that I am not a fan of the country-and-western genre. Of all the mainstream musical forms, country is the one that sticks to a set formula most often and thus is usually grossly deficient in imagination. Based on this you can surmise that if I am tackling a band that calls themselves The Great Western Squares that their name is either misleading as to the type of music they play, or that they offer something at least a little different from Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson.

Almost Sober leads off with "A Safe Home," a folksy mid-tempo tune nuzzled around Gary Fitzpatrick’s unpretentious baritone-tenor voice and his acoustic guitar strumming. Fitzpatrick’s vocals are set off nicely against the melodic alto background of Oona White, and the only defining country sound emanates from the twang of an electric guitar. From the outset it is clear that this is not going to be a traditional C&W disc. The opening track, however, does not foreshadow to what degree the previous statement is true.

The Great Western Squares proceed to dosido and turn your pardner round and round loosely fitted C&W forms. From "Don’t Tear Yourself To Pieces," a tune almost completely devoid of country characteristics and with a contemporary pop signature to it; to the decidedly country Merle Haggard tune which prompts my track skip trigger finger to fire every time; to "Legs Diamond," a classic "there’s gonna be a gun fight" acoustic guitar and vocal piece; to some really interesting barn-burning, hoe-down stuff like Gram Parsons’ "Luxury Liner" and "Hit the Town," in which an underlying hard-core thrash influence is evident (just think of how much fun a mosh pit at a square dance would be).

For a bunch of "squares" this band certainly thinks outside of the box. The Great Western Squares make country music accessible to us non-country listeners, while at the same time offering the devout country fan an opportunity to step out of the line dance.