Better than Ezra: Travis Aaron McNabb, Kevin Griffin, Tom Drummond.
Personnel: Cary Bonnecaze (vocals, drums); James Arthur Payne (piano, Fender Rhodes piano); Tom Drummond (synthesizer); Travis Aaron McNabb (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixers: Dan Rothchild; Malcolm Burn; Don Gehman; Ethan Allen; Shalom Aberle; Brad Wood .
Liner Note Authors: Tom Drummond; Travis Aaron McNabb.
Recording information: Conway Studios, Los Angeles, CA (1993-2004); Dreamland Recorders, Woodstock, NY (1993-2004); Fudge, New Orleans, LA (1993-2004); Hook Studios, North Hollywood, CA (1993-2004); Kingsway Studio, New Orleans, LA (1993-2004); Padded Cell Studio, Los Angeles, CA (1993-2004).
Photographer: Jay Blakesberg.
Better Than Ezra were one of a handful of bands that were caught between the chasm of legit post-Nirvana alt-rock and the legions of commercially minded post-grungers of the mid-'90s. Truth be told, they never seemed to fully belong to the indie-bred aesthetic of '90s alt-rock, not even in the way that the Gin Blossoms were a clear outgrowth of jangle pop -- they were just a guitar rock band who rode the post-grunge wave to the top of the modern rock charts in 1995 with "Good," and then had several other radio and MTV hits over the next five years, highlighted by "King of New Orleans," "In the Blood," "Rosealia," and "Desperately Wanting." One thing Ezra shared with most '90s bands was their keen sense of earnestness -- they really meant it, man, and that po-faced sincerity meant that their music could sometime seem generic, something that Elektra/Rhino's 2005 career overview, Greatest Hits, confirms. Apart from the aforementioned singles -- all available here in their radio-ready single versions, thankfully, which includes a handful of single remixes -- they didn't really craft memorable hooks, and whenever they did, their hooks were ingratiating, not immediate. So, even the band's biggest hits -- and all the charting hits are here, along with key album tracks, two rare mixes, and an unreleased cover of James' "Laid" -- are tunes that gradually work their way into memory instead of asserting themselves upon the first spin, a problem compounded by their sonic similarity. In the fine track-by-track liner notes in Greatest Hits, singer/songwriter/guitarist Kevin Griffin notes that "Misunderstood" is "yet another song with G, D, E minor, C" chords, and while his self-depreciating humor is refreshing on paper, the songs fall victim to sounding too samey -- they may not all have the same exact chord progression (although many do, including their biggest and best song, "Good"), but they are all cut from the same cloth, and it makes listening to 16 tracks from their five albums a little much for anybody who isn't already a fan; this is a time that an old-fashioned eight-to-ten-track Greatest Hits would have been welcome. That said, even if Better Than Ezra's music is rarely gripping, the band is likeable -- partially due to that sincerity that also sinks them -- which may be enough for those looking for a trip back to the late '90s, since this Greatest Hits does capture the rather rudderless sound of the post-grunge modern rock of that era quite well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine