Review :: OK Jones, "Push/Pull"

Richard Gintowt is surely best known to readers of this publication as a writer and reviewer. But outside of the day job, Gintowt is the frontman for reflective rock/country outfit OK Jones.

Gintowt is not new to songwriting or arranging, and his latest effort shows it. "Push/Pull" is a comfortably weathered 14-song affair seasoned by pedal steel and a variety of other instruments - even Dan Kozak, the saxophonist often at the corner of Seventh and Mass. Streets, makes a guest appearance on flute). Returning bandmates Jeff Jackson (pedal steel) and Joe Rankin (drums), along with Brian Adams (bass) make it possible for OK to kick ass as well as croon.

"Push/Pull" opens with an arpeggio full of pathos and the expectations-be-damned lyric, "Tonight will not be the night that I fall in love." By the end of the song, the telephoning phantoms (or maybe the world at large) receive the warning "I Can Tune You Out."

"Mean Guy," which makes excellent but sparing use of former Frogpond and current Abileen singer Heidi Phillips, is the album's real engine starter. If you're not quaking in your contemporary country boots by the time Gintowt sings, "Never met a face that I couldn't make cry," you'll at least be tapping them to the beat.

Just when it seems like OK might have a chip on his shoulder, the album offers "Besides Fall in Love," a whimsical, shuffling number that opens with the lines "Maybe tonight we can watch a movie/We don't have to touch each other/You can bathe in my new bathtub/I can give myself a backrub." Strange, but catchy.

"Push/Pull" is the album's title, but it could just as easily be called "You/Me," "His/Her" or "Now/Then." Lyrically, OK Jones is on familiar territory here, with most songs exploring new relationships, examining old ones, and centering on the singer's maladies of self. Thankfully, the band wrests more than a few rockers from this tension, with quite a few songs taking on a charged instrumental afterlife once everything else is sang and done.

The multi-tracked and heavily produced vocals, however, make it hard to figure out at times who Gintowt really is as a vocalist. The vocals on "Too Little Too Late" are slick and subdued while "Nothing Works" sounds like Bright Eyes at the county fair. Everything sounds good here, but the album occasionally lacks the openness and warmth that made his last album, Middletown, such a pleasant affair.

The strongest part of "Push/Pull" is the songwriting; each song has its own personality. "Snowstorms," a tale of tears, redemption and flaky white stuff (not dandruff) is the closest thing Gintowt has written to a Christmas carol. "Expectation," on the other hand, is a bittersweet rocker featuring some of the best drumming on any local release out there.

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My favorite track on the album is the closer, which uses an absolutely rich pedal steel melody to set the song's languid pace. "Effigy (Head Down the Road)" conjures up the ghosts of the past only to set them free, musing on the "when I leave this town" fantasies everyone indulges in from time to time. By the time Miles Bonny's muted trumpet sounds over the torn battlefield of Push/Pull, it's time to put the bottle back on the shelf.

If OK's somewhat exhaustive ballads of repentance and introspection don't wear you out first, you'll find yourself pleasantly exhausted by the well-crafted songs and superb musicianship on this album. The question at the end of the day is whether you trust Gintowt as a confessional songwriter or think he's just a music writer moonlighting as musician. Ultimately, the answer to that question will depend on your emotional response to the album ... and maybe the whiskey.

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