'68 Comeback includes: Monsieur Jeffery.
Recording information: Distillery, Costa Mesa, CA.
Photographer: David Blum.
Unknown Contributor Roles: Jeff Bouck; Nick Diablo.
Whereas the typical '68 Comeback release tends to be a fairly even mix of originals and covers, Love Always Wins features only three Comeback-penned offerings, the album-opening title track, "Dark Cloud," and "Polaroid Portrait." Whether it is in spite or because of this move, Love Always Wins proves to be perhaps the most easily accessible, almost garage-poppy, pleasant, and fun to listen to entry in the Memphis group's catalog. On the whole, Love finds the band more willing to cut loose and rock out than it seemed to have been on past releases, where the concern seemed to be more centered on staying close to its traditional blues/garage revivalist approach. This change of pace is also reflected in Monsieur Jeffrey Evans' trademark liner notes. Whereas previous efforts by '68 Comeback, as well as Evans' prior outfit, the Gibson Bros., were marked by his manic, stream-of-consciousness liner notes, generally consumed in equal measure by paying tribute to music legends and tallying broken hearts, Evans' notes on Love seem to indicate that he has a new and perhaps more optimistic take on the subject of love, for now at least. (And the notes were written on Valentine's Day, 1999). In standard Evans fashion, '68 Comeback tips its collective hat to classic artists like Charlie Feathers (to whom the album is dedicated and whose "Tongue-Tied Jill" is covered) in addition to genre figureheads like Big Mama Thornton ("Hound Dog"), John Lee Hooker ("Dimples"), Howlin' Wolf ("Sitting on Top of the World"), and Willie Dixon ("My Babe"). It is their educated choices in cover songs that leads one to believe that these Memphis boys play gritty, down and dirty, and sometimes a bit messy on purpose rather than due to a lack of skill. The case is that they have learned the rules of the genre, and are now prepared to strip the music down and rebuild it with borrowed pieces of original blues/rockabilly/garage supplemented with bits of punk attitude and power and garage revivalist passion and heart.
An album highlight, '68's raucous take on Little Milton's "Grits Ain't Groceries," will have listeners shaking their hips enough to make Elvis blush while singing the curiously catchy chorus of "If I don't love you, baby, then grits ain't groceries/Pigs ain't poultry/And Mona Lisa was a man." Though the notion of yet another cover of "Hound Dog" seems a bit self-indulgent and unnecessary at first, '68's glowing version is simply primal. Surprisingly, "Strange Things Are Happening Every Day" sounds oddly but rather charmingly like Lou Reed. While Ray Charles' original is a foot-stompin' good time in its own right, '68 Comeback's take on "What'd I Say" replaces fierce piano with rabid guitars to great results save for the vocals, which are a bit too buried in the mix to pack the same wallop as Charles. The boys also tackle harmonica man Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man," which with its slow tempo (and chord progression oddly akin to that of the Sesame Street theme song) doesn't really pack much punch, especially with the band's confounding decision to omit the harmonica, which is nearly as insulting as it would be to play "Johnny B. Goode" and leave out the guitar line. "Big Boss Man" notwithstanding, Love Always Wins finally captures the power of '68 Comeback in a way that should prove much more inviting to those who normally stray away from such lo-fi outings, though it still maintains plenty of edge for those who prefer their rock & roll down and dirty. A must-have for fans, and an excellent starting point for everyone else. Love Always Wins? Indeed. ~ Karen E. Graves