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Tobin Sprout
Let's Welcome the Circus People
(Luna13)

What makes Guided By Voices such an endearing band is their ability to eke out beautiful tunes within the confines of (usually) low-budget recording capabilites. The quality of songwriting supersedes the production, providing a listening experience similar to what comes from pulling out a scratchy old Neil Young album. The group's lineup is ever-changing, too (check out the massive family tree at www.gbv.com), which is another aspect of the band that provides some sort of hard-to-put-your-finger-on attraction: the sense of living in the moment, enjoying the current lineup because next time around it might (and probably will) be different.

The same aesthetic stretches to former long-time member Tobin Sprout's solo career. During his run with the band from 1987 through 1996, Sprout was an unassuming member, stepping back to make room for the prolific writing talents of Robert Pollard, but still throwing his own spices into the mix via an occasional song or two. On his newest release, Let's Welcome the Circus People, Sprout continues to please with a seemingly effortless ability to thread beautifully warm and affected vocal melodies across simplistic yet charming instrumental scenes. On songs such as the album's opener "Smokey Joe's Perfect Hair," and "Lucifer's Flaming Hour," Sprout weaves a perfect web of music and extremely visual lyrical imagery.

What really adds to the charm of this album are the imperfections that permeate each track: a moment of sloppy drums here and there, a wrong note every once in awhile, or the awkward fade-outs that finish off a few tunes. At times his old Casio C7 keyboard sounds slightly outdated, but thrown into the mix of distorted guitars and rolling bass lines, it becomes just another delectable sonic element in a scarce mix where the melodies prevail; besides providing vocals Sprout plays all the instruments on the album (guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, keyboard, and tambourine), with the exception of three tunes on which he is joined on drums by Spoon's Jim Eno. Recorded at his home studio in Leland, Michigan, the album sounds like an impressionistic audio scrapbook: inspirational moments translated to tape early in the morning, maybe right after lunch, and probably late at night. And it's an audio scrapbook worth checking out.

-- Mark Watt

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