Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath

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As can be expected with a collection that spans the years 1966 to 1971, a time when the stylistic curve changed by the month, Grapes of Wrath is wildly inconsistent. The music is certainly derivative, but the songs are fairly accomplished derivations, so much so that listening to the collection becomes an exercise in "pick the influence." "If Anyone Should Ask" pounds like a Dave Clark Five garage outtake (and, thus, not on a level with actual DC5); "Not a Man" is subpar "Mr. Tambourine Man folk-rock (and as the "in sound" of 1967, received considerable local airplay); "Irene" is an answer to the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral" with a bit of Beatles and the Lovin' Spoonful thrown in; "Life's Not for Me (Only for You)" is a post-Revolver, sitar-singed raga dirge, completely of its time, but still enjoyable; and "If She Leaves Me" betrays debts, as does much of the recorded output here, to John Lennon. The Grapes of Wrath really began coming into their own as writers and musicians in 1968, reaching its undeniable early peak with "Have a Good Time on Me." Despite the wall of guitars that opens the song, "Have a Good Time on Me" is a fine piece of soulful pop/rock, like the Buckinghams without horns, but it is even more complex, adding a nice section in the middle as well as a coda coated in Beatles/Beach Boys harmonies. There was more decent music to follow, namely "Makin' It Through 71," a personal narrative on main songwriter Steve Whitehurst's difficult year (but also a walk through a Paul McCartney-styled, late-Beatles rocker) and "Shades of Lillian White," which marries the pretty acoustic work of George Harrison and McCartney circa White Album and Let It Be. But even those were disjointed in parts, as the band began fracturing. Grapes of Wrath won't change anyone's world, but it is a visible window into the changing face of pop music during the Vietnam era.

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