Album Reviews: Through Toledo by Greg LaswellThrough Toledo is a divorce album -- worse for its creator, a blindsided-by-divorce album -- and, as such, inevitably shows show deep bruises. Greg Laswell puts on a brave face early, starting with the pleasant indie-pop of "Sing, Theresa Says," boosted by its breezy female harmonies and gentle, reflective lead riff. Vocally, Laswell has an unforced and easily engaging tenor. Languid but genuine, he occasionally recalls Damien Jurado, often recalls Ben London of Alcohol Funnycar and Sanford Arms, and later on the album gives a few strong nods toward Coldplay/Keane territory.
The story behind "Sing, Theresa Says" will appeal to anyone who finds themselves always writing (or enjoying) dark songs; Laswell had a dream in which his grandmother came to him and told him to "sing happy things." Upon waking up, Laswell boldly set off to follow Grandma's dream request. The Hollywood ending would be that he wrote the next "Hey Ya!" The real ending is that he discovered he didn't have any happy material in him, and the best he could do was a song that merely sounds happy. Ouch.
Following the agreeable opener, "Amazed" also sounds happy, if only by virtue of its peppy percussion and the extremely dense wall of rock that rises on the chorus. On closer listen, though, the song doesn't come anywhere close to clearing the happy bar. As the one true rocker in the batch of the songs, "Amazed" presents a challenge for Laswell, who doesn't have a rock voice, but the mix is such that he doesn't have to push to rise above the crowded arrangement. It provides a nice change of pace, and could have perhaps been better employed later in the album, when a been-there, done-that feel starts to seep into the material.
"High and Low" drops the stiff upper lip and throws Laswell out on his lonesome atop a sparse, somber piano line. It's the sort of song Chris Martin may put on a solo album if Gwyneth ever skips out on him: a bit overcooked with its inevitable strings, but damned if it isn't heartfelt and pretty. Unlike Martin, though, and utterly unlike Keane, Laswell largely avoids sounding maudlin because he taps into specifics, nicely conjuring up the confused and somewhat apathetic liberation of the unexpectedly single. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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