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Martial Arts Weekend

The Extra Glenns
Martial Arts Weekend
(Absolutely Kosher)

A couple guys with guitars have been getting a whole lot of press lately, making it harder for other guys with guitars to get any of the spotlight. Although they have their moments, Tenacious D is mainly about creating a hype larger than they could possibly ever live up to. Granted, Kyle Gass and Jack Black are pretty damn funny sometimes, but the schtick wears thin after awhile. Other than the name of their band not having anything to do with either of their real names, the Extra Glenns never pretend to be anything other than a couple guys with guitars (although there are some other instruments in the mix as well).

Comprised of Franklin Bruno (of Nothing Painted Blue, as well as a solo artist) and John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats), this group came together as the duo were both scheduled to play sets at the 2000 Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco. Scheduling an impromptu show there, a bunch of people showed up and the group was born. Just listening to the recording, it's easy to hear that it's one made by two friends. Although there isn't a lot of in-joking or anything overt, there's a loose sort of comfortable feel that gives the songs a boost.

Despite keeping things fairly simple in the instrument department, this batch of 12 tracks is nicely varied from the duo. Things open up with the touching "Baltimore," in which two pretty guitar melodies play off one another while a touch of piano creates a light backdrop. The vocals by Darnielle are slightly nasal, and although they might take a bit of getting used to for some listeners, they actually work quite well most of the time. Lyrically, the group is sharp as heck. "Twelve Hands High" cracks with wit (and some almost honky-tonk piano work) and both "Terminal Grain" and "Somebody Else's Parking Lot In Sebastopol" capture moments of beauty and sadness despite running less than two minutes each.

Of course, there's some really excellent guitar playing on the disc as well. Granted, some people would probably brush it off as nothing more than a glorified coffee-house duo, but both Darnielle and Bruno have obviously been creating music for awhile and it shows. They never let things linger on too long (the twelve tracks fly by in about 32 minutes), yet pack quite a bit of feeling into that time frame as well. The longest track on the entire album is actually a reworking of the Leonard Cohen track "Memories," in which the duo turn it into a saloon sounding track with only a piano as backing. Like Dan Bern if he wasn't trying so hard to be witty and They Might Be Giants if they weren't so damn goofy, or something like that.

Rating: 6.75