Greg Laswell”™s music has a stripped down personal nature that is refreshingly blunt and bravely uninhibited.Â On his first album, Through Toledo, Laswell opened up the scrapbook of the difficulties of his divorce to his listeners, and on his follow up, Three Flights from Alto Nido, he sang of the difficulties faced by his friends and family on their particular climbs in life.Â His music and melodies were delicious to the ears and the lyrics carried sharp wit and an impressive depth of soul.
It came as no surprise, then, that Laswell”™s performance at the Hotel CafÃ© last Sunday had the feel of a living room concert, despite the fact that he was backed on this evening by a full band. On this night, Laswell was performing cuts from his upcoming EP, Covers. As the title implies, the album is comprised entirely of covers of other artists”™ songs.Â It was once said that a cover should never be attempted unless a singer can bring something entirely new to a song, while at the same time maintaining the spirit of the original.Â Laswell accomplishes this task with impressive effectiveness.Â He brings a haunting quality to Kristen Hersh”™s Your Ghost and an almost reverential quality to Kate Bush”™s This Woman”™s Work. Other covers of Mazzy Star, Morphine, and even Echo and the Bunnyman show an impressive range in his taste in music.Â One cover not on the album but often performed at Laswell concerts is a sweet and almost nostalgic version of Girls Just Want to Have Fun. He performed this cover last Sunday, as well, and quipped, “Only I could bring such an upbeat, fun loving song like this down to despair.”Â The line, itself, may sound dire, but Laswell infused a self-knowledge and humor about himself that was refreshing. Â He may take a listener through darker places, but he will certainly make you laugh while you”™re at it.
Laswell”™s persona in a live context almost de-mystifies every element of the rock star.Â Laswell was very talkative between songs, and rather than spout out preconceived one-liners or tired anecdotes, he rambled on in a way that was completely genuine and in the moment.Â If you”™re looking for a polished and well-honed rock show that simply duplicates what you hear on the album, look elsewhere.Â If you are searching for a down to earth, honest to God person who shoots impulsively from the hip, then Laswell is your guy.
It would be tempting for hard-core indie fans to question Laswell”™s motivation in releasing a covers CD by saying that he wants to capitalize on already known hits to bolster his own popularity, but seeing him live, it is certain that this is not the case.Â Laswell is obviously not just a musician but also a music lover, and so listening to him talk with such passion about the songs he covers shows that this is a man who lives for the music, no matter the result.Â He seems more than aware of the fact that how his music is received may be entirely out of his hands, but the energy and passion he puts into performing it most certainly is not.
review by Zach Jacobs