The Birdhouse Gourds 

Crayon Banjo (www.birdhousegourds.com)

A national music website recently chose the Birdhouse Gourds as Ohio's best alternative band. Alternative? To what? Paul Simon? The VH1 divas? This is every bit as absurd as the chain record stores in local malls sticking 10,000 Maniacs and R.E.M. CDs in the "alternative rock" bin.

The Birdhouse Gourds, three unglamorous middle-aged guys from Lorain County, play straight-on, unadorned, 1980s-style rock. All 11 songs on Crayon Banjo, the Gourds' first full-length CD, are original, mostly the work of lead singer/guitarist Jerry Popiel. R.E.M., in fact, is the Gourds' strongest influence: Opening cut "That Girl" could have been an outtake from Murmur or Reckoning; Barenaked Ladies, Gin Blossoms, and all other guitar-driven modern-rock acts creep into their sound as well. Sad is the day when rock music like this, so heavy on melody, with well-intentioned raggedness, is labeled alternative.

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