A certain amount of hype – undeserved, some may say – surrounds the Greenhornes: First because the band toured with the White Stripes, and second because the Greenhornes’ Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence appeared on the Loretta Lynn’s Grammy-winning, Jack White-produced 2004 album, Van Lear Rose. Those who see the Stripes as saviors of the genre, who see the band’s stripped-down, distortion-laden rendering of traditional blues as some kind of magic musical elixir, may naturally approach the Greenhornes’ first EP for V2, East Grand Blues, with an archivist’s care and respect. The other camp — those who hear in Jack White’s pseudo-revivalist jams nothing but big repetitive chords and barely competent drumming — may hear East Grand Blues as another knockoff, another attempt at nostalgia for an era the musician and its audience probably never lived in.
East Grand Blues, produced by the band’s Detroit pal/collaborator Brendan Benson, is both of these: It’s a group of hooky, melodic ‘60s rock, loose but still polished. It’s also a near-covers record, lacking in creativity and doing little to hide its obvious influences: the Kinks, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Beatles. What East Grand Blues and the Greenhornes suffer from most is generational schizophrenia. “Pattern Skies,” has an instantly recognizable guitar-lick over a simple foot stomping beat – think, well, the Kinks. But unlike the current crop that draw from past eras of blues-influenced rock (the White Stripes, 22-20’s, Kings of Leon), the song, in its faithful adherence to the era’s particular sound (singer/guitarist Craig Fox even delivers his generic lyrics in a Cincinnati-via-Liverpool drawl) comes across as a dedicated cover rather than anything fresh.
The trio’s skill is evident throughout. Listen to the swampy blues of “Shelter of Your Arms” and the jangly, spirited “I’m Going Away.” But listen further and you’ll hear more than a little of dark blues of the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” behind “At Night.” And “Shine Like the Sun,” with its early-Beatles bossa nova and generic “you will be mine” lyrics, is, like most of the album, catchy in that been-done-before way. It’s a tight trio, sure (for more, even better, evidence, listen to Van Lear Rose), but by mimicking a style so rooted in our consciousness as having been performed first by someone else, decades ago, the Greenhornes make it difficult to approach their music without any preconceived notions. This is the real problem with East Grand Blues: By rooting themselves in the successes of the past, the members are limiting their own successes in the future.