The Great Plains

Born in a Barn

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First things first: Great Plains are the most amazing band that you've never heard. Having started to make a strong name for themselves as a smart folk-punk (and so much more -- nearly a genre unto themselves, really) outfit with the release of their 1983 debut, The Mark, Don & Mel EP, Columbus, OH's Great Plains solidified their sound further with the following year's debut full-length, Born in a Barn. Sporting a clever, if oddly unsettling, album cover depicting the Nativity Scene with all human/angelic figures, except baby Jesus, bearing the face of Abraham Lincoln, Born in a Barn, like all Great Plains releases, is driven by dry wit and boozy intellectualism courtesy of main mouth Ron House, and backed up by the almost deceptively cheerful keyboards and sparse guitars of Mark and Matt Wyatt, respectively. Among other things, Born in a Barn establishes a sense of Ohio pride, or at least awareness, through songs like "Rutherford B. Hayes," "Columbus Dispatch," and "Serpent Mound." Quietly hooky, and easily one of the group's most subtle songs, "Rutherford B. Hayes" is a musical biography of "our favorite son," an Ohio native and U.S. President, that manages to work in everything from references to Hayes' assassination to the football record of that other Hayes from Ohio, Woody. While catalog highlight "Love to the Third Power" rocks out with big organ riffs and House's manic ranting, "I Must Have Made It All Up" steps back from the carnal wiseguy act long enough to present a sad, pretty love song wherein House (who went on to write such unsentimental lines as "I'm religious like my dick is") solemnly concedes "I must have made it all up/there's no such thing as love.../Communication with a kiss/is something I'd like to think exists." Why Great Plains didn't have 43 number one hits will forever be a mystery. Since Born in a Barn has long been elevated to the status of being a hard-to-find collectors item, it is worthwhile to note that in 2000 Columbus, OH's Old 3C record label (which just so happens to be run by ex-Great Plains-man Paul Nini), saw fit to release a Great Plains retrospective titled Length of Growth. Much more comprehensive than the group's 1989 compilation, Colorized!, Length of Growth's two CDs and 50 songs include all of the songs that make up Born in a Barn, as well as highlights like "Dick Clark," "The Way She Runs a Fever," and "The Night Won't Live to See the Day."

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