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Mutual Admiration Society

reviewed by Greg Baysans

The mis-titled "Mutual Admiration Society" could easily be taken for the last CD that Toad the Wet Sprocket didn't get a chance to put out before their demise in the late 1990s.

Recorded in 2001 and primarily a vehicle for Toad's Glen Phillips, the accompanying "band" is the now-successful Nickel Creek (Chris Tuhle, Sara and Sean Watkins) who seem to be on 'Ludes here.

The album opens with the quiet and introspective "Comes A Time." The next song, "Sake of the World," is livelier and more inclusive of the "band." The song is brooding and full of a sort of regret - "For the sake of the world just forget about me."

"Windmills" is an unremarkable TWSprocket tune from the album "Dulcinea" redone the same way except for the excellent change of the word "day" to "cloud." The song makes good use of the musical ensemble.

"Be Careful," my favorite song of the lot, not only because it's also the title of a Patty Griffin song, but because it is perky, sounds like some of Toad the Wet Sprocket's cheerier songs (there weren't many).

"Running Out" is a short instrumental featuring Sara Watkins' "fiddle." The 'Ludes are really taking effect here.

The next three songs, "Somewhere Out There," "Francesca," and "Trouble" are blasť, rather ordinary pieces, very much in the Toad the Wet Sprocket vein, that is, good at not being great, perhaps scraping the underbelly of it. Although that sounds like a disparaging summary, overall the songs and the album wear well in their neutral way.

"La Lune" is an ambitious and pathetic work. There's a dissonance to hearing Sara sing background to the lyrics, "Pure heroin shore," that make this stand out. But just when the album starts to get interesting, it's over.

"Reprise" returns us to the land of the 'Ludes. and the final number is a recording of, finally, the group together playing Harry Nilsson's "Think About Your Trooubles" in a loose, improvisational style. After a few pleasant minutes of this, the song fades to a minute of silence but the patient listener will be rewarded because they come back, louder and livelier than before to play another couple minutes of music.

The photo on the CD shows a man (Phillips?) at the window in a room where a few chairs and a coffee urn suggest an AA meeting or the like. With the "heroin shores" line, I'm wondering if this whole album is some kind of therapy meeting, that last song perhaps sung "after class."

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