Big in Iowa

4 Guys in a Trabi

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If the band didn't rock so ferociously, you could call Big in Iowa a straight country combo. On second thought, you probably can drop the rock as far as 4 Guys in a Trabi is concerned. The band's first live album after three solid to spectacular studio efforts is real, live country, and a powerfully authentic brand of it. Then again, the same could be said about every great country-rock artist from the Band and Neil Young -- both heavy inspirations -- on down to Steve Earle if caught on the right night. And on the night chronicled here, the band's Midwestern twang takes precedence (perhaps due to the cozy club atmosphere) over their propensity to kick up dust and buck with ravaging instrumental prowess. The performance, the third show of their first ever German tour in January 2000, was recorded straight to eight-track DAT then pieced together and mixed -- no overdubs -- by the band's German label, Blue Rose Records, and released in Europe by mail-order only (and subsequently sold at the band's shows). The set is perhaps not the finest performance from the band's European tour (Bob Burns admits as much), but it nevertheless captures them before their vitality had any chance of being sapped by the road. Not only that, but Big in Iowa sound determined to make an impression, which they proceed to do with a generous selection of originals, falling most heavily on their two most recent albums, Twisted and Bangin' 'N' Knockin' (the latter of which had yet to be released at the time). They naturally sacrifice the thematic unity of those albums, but there is a consistency to the set that allows the strength of their songs and musicianship to radiate. The show isn't always technically great -- there are a few flubs and wrong notes sprinkled throughout, and the harmonies are a little tentative in spots (on "Justine" particularly) -- but the vitality is always there. There is no hint of hesitation in the playing, with Rick House's guitar especially good, and Burn's burnished yowl is wonderful to hear as usual. In addition, the band pulls off covers of Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio," and John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over the World," each remade in the band's inimitable style. In fact, the most revealing thing about the set is that, when comparing how seamless their own tunes sound sitting next to the classics they cover, it shows how superb their songwriting really is, approaching if not yet quite reaching the quality of their heroes. All things considered, 4 Guys in a Trabi is a fine addition to the band's catalog. Even if it doesn't represent them in their absolute peak form, it does show the sort of dynamics that they are capable of live, and is a welcome addition to their catalog.

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