Plan Z Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/29/1999
David Glennon might be a familiar name to anyone who followed alternative radio in the late '80s and early '90s - and by "alternative", I mean "college" radio, the only true format deserving of the alternative label. As bassist for The Vulgar Boatmen and in his short stint with The Silos, Glennon built up quite a reputation as a musician. His own side project, The Tonewelders, seemed to sit idly by as Glennon continued working with other bands, stopping only to release a tape of his originals.
Now, 12 years after that original demo, Glennon has released his band's first full-length album, Five Sticks, a disc which sounds like a cross between Big Head Todd & The Monsters, The Jayhawks and The Bottle Rockets (only Glennon is much less goofy, relying more on situations for subtle moments of humor). It's a disc that takes a little getting used to, but is an hour well spent.
Glennon's bio describes the music of The Tonewelders as "altpoprockcountryfolk songs". (Hah - let's see the spell-checker choke on that one!) Such a description might be all-encompassing, but I would dare to say it's wrong, as I don't hear that much of a folk influence in the music. The music of The Tonewelders leans heavily on alternative and pop, with more than just a pinch of country twang thrown in at times.
Glennon's vocals remind me a lot of Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd & The Monsters; both singers have a unique vocal drawl to their delivery. One quick criticism I would level against Glennon is that I would have liked to have seen credit given for musical contributions - even if he played most of the instruments, I'd rather have him tell me that than have me guess at it. (For that matter, the band's Web site answers no questions.)
Musically, Five Sticks is hit-or-miss, though there's a lot more hits in these 12 tracks. Glennon uses subtle humor at times to get his points across, as on "When Good Things Happen To Bad People," "She's Either" and "7-11 Of Lovin'". But he knows when to temper the humor and turn it into a lesson to be learned, as he does on "She Hates Me," a song which starts off debating how anyone who wasn't insane could hate our hero - and ends explaining how circumstances could have led to it.
There are moments on Five Sticks which are absolutely beautiful, like the track "It's A Guy Thing". A good song on its own, the use of background female vocals really seals this one for me, and raises the track to a whole new level. It's easily one of my favorites on this disc, and is a good candidate for a single. Likewise, "What The I Ching Says" takes a close look at the questions about one's future that have to be faced. Both in music and in message, it's a killer track.
Not every track on Five Sticks works this well. The musical pattern tends to get a little tired-sounding by the time you get to the last track, "There's A Last Time For Everything". Had this disc had one or two tracks left off, chances are it would have been perfect. A few other tracks, like "She Didn't Ask," "Talk Me Down" and "Plan Z," are okay, but they don't rise to the same level of perfection as other songs.
For an "official" first effort, Five Sticks is still a solid debut from The Tonewelders. They are a band who aren't afraid to fly a different musical flag in the face of uniformity - and while such a move might eventually hurt them commercially, they can take pride in the fact that they will succeed or fail (my money is on succeed) on their own terms.