February 2, 1999
Ian Brennan (Toy Gun Murder Records),
1999. Spine No: 4932-22510-2
Psychiatric counselor by day, folk-rock balladeer by night, TEACHER'S PET is Ian Brennan's tenth "self-released" album. Utilizing the ballad as his main musical and thematic component, Brennan brings the listener into a world of loss and contemplation in the world of misaligned suburbia, based on doubt on his experiences as a psychiatric counselor. He does a fair job with his guitar, pelting mild chords that merge appropriately with his lamenting vocal style.
Surprisingly, TEACHER'S PET was recorded in a weekend with most of the backup band learning tracks on-the-job. The effect is an honesty that enhances the balladeer quality of Brennan's form. He moves from electric to acoustic with ease, maintaining his solemn interest in the human condition.
Full of angst, sobriety and grave, comic disparity, TEACHER'S often sounds like a college poet's notebook turned into an album. "Swing Batter Batter, Swing" moans: "Her mother hit her because she's an eighth grade dropout." On "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now," Brennan tells us that "...dad can't start the barbecue, but mom's already lit..."
Brennan seems sincerely concerned with human suffering. Unfortunately, there isn't much else he's interested in. The dark themes in TEACHER'S PET run the course of the album without deviation. His electric work in "Single Moms Rock My World" and "Uncle John" draw the listener in more successfully with more vibrant appeal than many of his acoustic songs
In the end, TEACHER'S PET tries too hard. By the end of the album most listeners will be either depressed or calling their therapists. Though he tries, Brennan can't pull us in completely with his poignant verses or his complacent strumming. But, if you dig anguish, this may be the Pet you're looking for.
Good Friend (Hi Test Records),
1999. Spine No. HT9304
Good Friend describes itself as 'kinda Creedence meets Dave Matthews on ginseng tea." Mixing an edgy rock sound with a self-described "high energy retro influence," they play with a tireless, caffeinated, house-band fervor.
Founded in New Jersey by Greg Merritt, the band moves through fourteen tracks with a raw grace that is balanced with an experienced music sensibility. Drummer Dan "Huh?" DeRienzo creates a steady but loose background for the often psychedelic sometimes electric numbers that permeate the album. A host of other "special guests" and friends add to the musical animal to create a lucid, but still flexible sound.
The tracks range from instrumentals with an organic, spiritual sound "Blis" and "River") to hearty rock grooves like "Seattle Blues" and "You Got It Right." "Sweet Memories" is a noteworthy ballad with a vibrant mix of acoustic and electric guitar.
Good Friend took two years to complete BEST FRIEND. The effort shows. Polish and structure have been applied in generous proportions. Refinement and a natural sense of exploration give the music a focused but unforced awareness that makes the album enjoyable. Musically, these guys have done their homework and are at the head of the class. The lyrics are slightly generic, which the robust music tends to overshadow. Merritt has a strong but simple voice that complements the confident arrangements, and the listener craves to hear him dive beyond the calm surface of the quiet verses: "Nothin' left to say, have to look for a new day..."
Good Friend has potential. With a little more exploration into their elastic style, and some more notable lyrics, they could make a niche for themselves in the vast metropolis of the music world. Good friends are hard to fine, especially in the volatile indie music industry.
-- James Ladner