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Gretchen - In the Mean Time

Dying Passion -  CD Review
In the Mean Time

CD Info
Label: MD Records
11 Tracks
Language: English

I used to have a friend named Gretchen. (Dramatic pause…..) But this review is not about her. Rather, it’s about a dynamic, high-energy, three-piece musical entity from Nashville, Tennessee. (Don’t be frightened, this is not country music!) It’s also about how they rock. And rock they do. Yes indeed.

In their own words, the band describes their sound as “positive, heavy-melodic, happy-gothic, chic-rock”. Bands can come up with some really strange self-descriptions sometimes, but this one is pretty much on-target, specially the “heavy-melodic” part. Of immediate note to us female-vocal fans is the fine vocal instrument of Mia Richards, who is also the bass player (you expected someone named Gretchen? Silly you!). Whether half-shouting in high-strung fervor or softly crooning away during a tender moment, Mia’s voice is a custom fit for the music; her singing is strong, smoothly melodic, and confidently emotional. Hers is a pretty much perfect voice and is a joy to listen to. Mia’s husband, Dave Richards, handles the guitar department, and handles it well. His bold assault on the strings (he plays a 7-string guitar) is a defining element of the band’s powerful energy. Rounding out the trio is Stephen Robinson banging on the drums and doing a fine job of it.

My own description goes something like this: start with a hard rock base, add an alternative rock edge, along with a slight punk attitude, and filter it through a catchy, melodic pop sensibility, and Gretchen is what you end up with. Such a mix of influences will inevitably touch off numerous associations for the listener For instance, one could be forgiven for mistaking the album’s opening track, “Fading”, for an Evanescence song. The similarity is strong (some would say eerie), and repeated at several points throughout these eleven songs. The second track, “Breathe”, strikes me as a mixture of Lullacry and Veruca Salt. I have a feeling every listener will come up with different comparisons, so widely distributed are Gretchen’s influences. One could probably mention a whole constellation of 90’s alternative and hard rock bands and not be too far from the mark. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that Gretchen is simply a patchwork of different bands‘ sounds. Far from it, in fact. They smoothly fuse their influences together into a seamless whole, and they definitely own their sound. One of Gretchen’s stated goals is to create songs in which the music and the vocals each stand on their own without using the other as a crutch, and they succeed admirably at this. In Dave’s words: “there is no compromise for melody”, and he means it!

It should be noted that Gretchen are labeled -- and label themselves -- as a Christian band. Maybe that floats your boat, maybe it doesn’t, but I assure you there’s absolutely no sermonizing here. In fact I hear no overt religious references at all in any of the songs, and although you can interpret some of the songs in that light, there’s nothing forcing you to do so. Most of the lyrics seem to deal with the same kinds of issues you hear about from other bands -- relationships, love, loss, betrayal, that sort of thing. That’s not to say the band doesn’t hold strong religious beliefs; their faith is quite evident in interviews when they are asked about it. They just don’t force it to the forefront of their music. By the way, to satisfy your curiosity, the name Gretchen comes from a spiritually-based story by C. S. Lewis called “Gretchen Goes to Nebraska” (also the title of an album by King’s X).

In the Mean Time has excellent production and quite a nice flow. While maintaining the same basic upbeat melodic focus throughout, there are enough style/pace changes to keep things fresh and interesting. You have your darker, goth-tinged tunes like “Fading” and the nicely-done title track. There are several straight-ahead rockers like “Breathe”, “Passion”, “Daisy Chain”, and “Lie to Yourself” (one of my favorites). “Don’t Wanna Be” comes close to punk territory. Then there are the more laid-back and introspective songs such as “Let It Go” and the pretty ballad “Every Moment”. My favorite out of the whole bunch has to be “Know You”, an almost doomy-sounding ballad (if that makes any sense) with sweet and touching lyrics.

It’s rare to hear a band, and especially an American band, playing a heavy type of music that is so completely melodic and accessible and… to clumsily coin a word… sing-alongable. This music is definitely radio-friendly, and I don’t mean that in the insulting sense of the term. I mean that this music has the potential to be enjoyed by a wide variety of music fans, with tastes ranging from pop to rock to metal. So I hope you’ll give Gretchen a chance, and “in the mean time” I just may look up their two earlier releases.