Big in Iowa

Green Pop

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If their first through third albums charted a rapidly progressing arc in the way of confidence and capability, from loose but groovy bar band to rock-solid roots rockers, Green Pop is the record on which everything finally coalesced for the Cincinnati quartet. In fact, the album represents a quantum leap in quality and consequence, which is certainly saying something in light of the band's frequently stellar previous history. Where even in the finest moments on their initial few albums Big in Iowa could come off as one trick, Green Pop is anything but. It is, instead, one of the strongest straight-ahead, pure rock & roll albums of the year. From where the band's newfound proficiency and power arose is likely a confluence of some of the usual factors (upgraded songwriting prowess, increased road worldliness, and seasoning), but it without a doubt also has much to do with Big in Iowa's choice of collaborator. Former Del Lords guitarist Eric "Roscoe" Ambel -- one of the architects of the '80s roots rock revival -- produces the album, and his impact is considerable. He simultaneously polishes the band's roughest edges and brings out their ragged, robust heart, while turning in a crisp, beefy production that carves the perfect groove. Green Pop has its share of thick rock and rustic country-rock ("Move Along"), but more importantly there are strains of cool rhythm & blues ("Bull in a China Shop") that, for perhaps the first time, fully live up to the throttled soul that emerges from Bob Burns' throat every time he opens his mouth to sing. The band also has the great taste to tap into their state's abundant rock and soul legacy with a superb cover of "Little Bit O'Soul," a song perfectly suited to their strengths. But it is telling that by this point, bands from the past hardly seem adequate except as touchstones. This is entirely the quartet's album, to the point that even when it does resemble an influence, it is only a momentary echo before moving beyond. The awesome "Green Thoughts," for instance, has elements of prime early-'70s Rolling Stones -- the grittiness, the Keith Richards quality guitar riff -- but is easily better and less pomp and circumstance than anything the Stones have done since that era. Big in Iowa wears Green Pop like an old favorite shirt, but never before has it looked quite this good on them.

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