On Howdy, its fifth album and first for Thirsty Ear, the group still revolves around the lush pastoral melodies of its principal songwriters, Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley, who continue to write the kind of glistening pop constructions that make it easy for rock critics to play "spot the influence." The opening track, "I Need Direction," is one of the best songs they've ever done, a gangbusting opus with "Chestnut Mare"-like introspection, the Beatles' "bah bah bah" harmonies, and even some Dylan organ. "Near You" is very good as well -- these guys are capable of piloting those high-flying Byrds harmonics with almost aerodynamic precision. "Dumb Dumb Dumb," on the other hand, rings with clarity as it stomps through a mid-tempo heartland riff that wouldn't necessarily sound out of place on a John Mellencamp album. Similarly, "The Sun Shines From You," isn't far from the laid-back breeziness of any "jam" band you could name. Familiar sounds, sure, but it's just that familiarity that has made Teenage Fanclub such a benign institution.
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