By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ohio's Two Cow Garage can occasionally sound a hell of a lot like Dallas' own alt-country legends in Slobberbone. Problem is, Micah Schnabel, leader of Two Cow Garage, doesn't see the alt-country tag as necessarily a good thing.
"These days, I'd just as soon see us known as just a rock band," says Schnabel from his home just outside of Columbus, Ohio. "There seems to be more and more baggage involved with being labeled an alt-country act."
Schnabel may be being a bit overly sensitive, but he has a point. The alt-country movement seems to have ended more than a decade ago, right around the time the Old 97's released Fight Songs. Since then, the term Americana has been used to describe a wide array of folk, country and rock artists—or just about anyone who sings with a Southern accent or adds a bit of fiddle or steel guitar to the mix.
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"We are a rock band to be sure," says Schnabel.
And after a cursory listen to Two Cow Garage's most recent release, 2008's Speaking in Cursive, it's hard to argue with the guy. Although the band has been around for a decade, the growth of Schnabel's songwriting over Two Cow's last couple of releases has been dynamic. On the band's initial albums (2002's Please Turn the Gas Back On and 2004's The Wall Against Our Back), Schnabel and crew appeared content banging out solid but somewhat clichéd, by-the-numbers alt-country. But with 2007's III and especially on 2008's Speaking in Cursive, Schnabel has shaken loose of his Neil Young and Crazy Horse fixation and found some new ways to express his rural angst. The songs on Cursive resonate with a candor and control that speaks well for Two Cow Garage's future recordings.
"I've grown as a songwriter over the years," says Schnabel. "At least I hope so. I've learned to introduce more dynamics into my songs."
One listen to newer songs such as "Your Humble Narrator," "Brass Ring" and "Bastards and Bridesmaids" will aptly demonstrate Schnabel's way with riff and wit.
"Waking up to cassette tapes and ashtrays/All filled up from the night before," he sings on "Your Humble Narrator," sounding like a man who's been through many tough mornings himself.
"I think good songwriters write about what they know," says Schnabel with a self-depreciating tone that belies the strength of his own songs.
Alt-country or not, this guy knows what he's doing.