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Green River Ordinance - Chasing Down the Wind

“I think the world is in a very frightening and ugly place.” - Dave Matthews, Bonnaroo 2004
 
We have two completely different issues to deal with here: one positive, one not very positive, so in a good news / bad news situation, how d’ya wanna vote? Show of hands please. Okay, let's see, hm, right, just as I thought, good news first.
 
This is a great EP from a very talented band that has more than a few achievements to its name.  Chasing Down the Wind is delicious radio fare, and GRO has seen enviable commercial success in the past, garnering a #3 slot in the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, a #39 on the Billboard Independent Release roster, and #17 on the Billboard Adult Top 40. Impressive. I suspect, though, that, had they agreed to industry terms, this CD might’ve turned out to be a cross between The Bangles and Abba. You know: tuneful licorice. Maybe not, I could be wrong, but I’ve reason to be a trifle cynical, as we’ll see.
 
The interesting thing is that they were once signed to Capitol/Virgin and EMI but departed. Why they did so is not at all clear to me at the moment, but I think those of us who have followed the ongoing chaos that is the music industry can make a few witheringly accurate guesses, as GRO is a collective of highly idealistic lads and the Abaddon that constitutes the majors is not. Not at all. Thus, Chasing Down The Wind is a Kickstarter product and quite democratically wrought from start to finish, a wise decision and one I’m coming to think may well indicate the future of the music biz.
 
The quintet’s a well-honed ensemble placing a velvety smooth patina on a folk / country / roots genre calling to mind Josh Rouse, Pat McGee, Blue Line Highway, and a number of tremendously pleasing mello-rockers. The tracks are warm, glowing, and positivistic even when reflectively rueful; that is, when regret is present, so is hope, as “It Ain’t Love” (“It ain’t love if it can’t break your heart”) shows quite well. That cut also showcases what a well integrated unit these guys are, with marvelously constructed harmonies instrumentally and vocally. Every gent in the group is a talented s.o.b. though Josh Jenkins' singing and Jamey Ice's guitar, mandolin, and banjo work particularly stand out.
 
From start to finish, Chasing is refreshing and quietly exhilarating. Cross all the best mellifluous elements of CSNY, the Eagles, Batdorf & Rodney, Poco, It’s a Beautiful Day, and the many bands that sooth the nerves while exciting the mind and soul (I almost jumped up from the computer and started a high kicking square dance the moment “Flying” came on), and you’ve got what these gents are most invested in. Should you be in need of music  as balm rather than rage- (metal) or apathy-inducer (Top 40), I'd suggest this as pretty damned panaceic.
 
Now for the down side. For one, this is the oddest liner I've ever seen for a CD. No credits, no member roster, no thanks'es, no label logo, no nothin' but the front cover and then a song list repeated twice, a third time on the reverse of the jewel case. Here and in other web venues, I've bitched a LOT about the lack of marketing, PR, and design skills among modern business efforts, but this one takes the cake. The problem, I think, is revealed just above the bar code: "Manufactured by Amazon.com".
 
You know Amazon.com, doncha? Sure ya do, it's the virtual slave labor Goliath sweating frantically to cover over recent revelations Mac McClelland scribed in a major Mother Jones article last year. Amazon is a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s; in other words, a shining example of the, as Chomsky notes sardonically, sterling selfless American business community that labors night and day to better serve its public. McClelland’s revelations are very disturbing, literally a Matrix forerunner, centering in the sort of very abusive U.S. labor practices even a Green Beret would call bestial and inhuman; again: perfectly reflective of the business mind, which is almost always predatory. Therein lie-eth the Gordian knot. The interesting thing is that what GRO is inadvertently revealing serves to re-introduce what Frederic Dannen, in his music journalism landmark, The Hit Men, once very nicely condemned: the Mafia workings of distribution.
 
I noted, a couple decades ago in one of the national rags I used to write for, that what Dannen was kinda missing is the fact that even the labels, though they labor mightily PR-wise to the contrary, are really just another part of the distribution chain. After all, there are only three elements in the equation - artist, distribution (label, actual distribution houses, media), and consumer – and the middle man is always the problem, just, heh!, ask any businessman or businesswoman. This, I think, is the key. After all, EVERY businessperson on Earth is forever trying to find ways to “cut out the middleman”, you hear it all the time, so why wouldn’t the artist do the same? Makes sense. In an interesting coincidence and paradox, GRO chose its name after the Wyoming-based law forbidding door-to-door solicitation in the U.S. unless the homeowner gives express permission beforehand, a Catch-22 even Joseph Heller woulda flinched at.
 
There's a triple reverse moral in all this somewhere, I'm quite sure of it but am damned if I'm of a mind to track it down and kill it. Nonetheless, Josh Jenkins and fellows are, ironically enough, deadset against slavery everywhere on the globe – I'm not sure, given the Amazon alliance, where they'd delimit the concept, but I certainly know where I would - and were even included in a Christian compilation, Freedom, released by the International Justice Mission through Family Christian Stores (I’ll with difficulty hush my atheist tongue on that part) in an effort to uplevel awareness of such atrocities globally. In that, then, I have a piece of advice for Int. Justice Mission: read John Perkins so that you know what you’re really up against (chiefly, the U.S. business community).
 
The group was the only secular band that could claim the distinction, and I'm more than satisfied all of it came through good hearts and clean intentions – that much is evident in the music - but, man, in this Amazon gig, they and everyone else is running afoul of exactly what’s rightly declaimed. Is that the artists’ fault? Not at all, because, as we're seeing with grim clarity now, once you're in a capitalism, how can you avoid such things? I do not call upon GRO or any art enclave to solve the problem, that would be ridiculous, and groups like this one are making far better efforts than most citizens, but I cannot help but note the problem, and I, like Mr. Matthews, also think the world has become a very frightening and ugly place. That art has been used, almost always through no such intent of the artist, to help make it so must make us pause to reconsider the template.

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