Great Lakes-Ways of Escape CD Review
Ben Crum, Dan Donahue, and Jamey Huggins formed Great Lakes back in 1996 while living in Athens, Georgia. After releasing a self-titled debut in 2000, Huggins devoted his time to his role in Of Montreal, leaving Crum and Donahue to helm the reins on two more albums of breezy lighthearted psych-rock. Last year found Donahue also bowing out which in turn paved the way for Crum’s ascent to primary songwriter and front man duties for the new release, Ways of Escape. What follows is a sweeping and heartfelt song cycle that eschews the band’s earlier sound and moves towards a country inflected brand of folk rock reminiscent of The Sadies, Delorean, and the not to be confused with Great Lake Swimmers. If a theme can be gleaned from the album it is that of a man stepping out from the shadows and becoming independent in a crazy and complex world. Fitting perhaps, since Crum is now finally free to follow his musical whims as the solo self-proclaimed “Great Lake”. He announces his presence early on album opener “Rev War”, stating that he is “Not a messenger but a message”. Despite the partnership abandonment, Crum stands on his own both lyrically and with his voice, confidently moving back and forth across mournful ballads, country shuffles, and straight ahead rock numbers. He also puts his Rolodex to good use recruiting a stellar ensemble cast to back him throughout the record. Featuring current and former members of Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Psychedelic Furs, Beirut, and The Ladybug Transistor among others, the songs are anchored by a confident array of acoustic guitars, piano, pedal steel, organ, strings, and horns. The expert musicianship showcases its versatility transforming the aforementioned “Rev War” from a weepy country burner into a galloping stomper as Crum sings one of his best lines, “Like a river that runs free/I am not damned”. The pace intensifies on the next track, “Ghost Brother” as the band puts ‘70’s prog rock electric guitar solos over a pounding drum beat and soulful organ line. Throughout the album, they are able to channel all the varying instruments and sounds to give each song a unique and lived-in air of authenticity. Crum and his bandmates seamlessly traverse the soundtrack, incorporating a spoken word narrative in “Chosen Enemy”, a finger-picked John Prine cover with “Sour Grapes”, and a pair of beautiful duets with Suzanne Nienaber on album closers, “Half Your Life Gone” and “Ways of Escape”. The songs are great, but this is not an album of singles. You will be rewarded by spending your time with it as it plays out like a live show performed out in the woods on a cool, starry evening. Enjoying it as a cohesive body of work makes Crum’s creation all the more satisfying. Hopefully, he will continue to build his repertoire and further the Great Lakes catalog.