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David Gans - The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best
CD Review by Jud Conway on 12/17/2008   

David Gans is, arguably, the quintessential journeyman on the jamband scene. Best-known as long-time host and producer of the widely-syndicated Grateful Dead Hour radio show, Gans is also a respected music journalist and the author of several books, including Playing in the Band: An Oral History and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead (1985/1996) and Talking Heads: The Band and Their Music (1985). He produced and compiled a handful of Grateful Dead-related CDs; including the career-spanning boxed set So Many Roads (1965-1995). He is an accomplished guitarist who utilizes a pedal-controlled looping device to weave multiple guitar parts into his dynamic solo performances. In addition, he is an established recording artist with a handful of albums under his belt, including Solo Electric (2000), Solo Acoustic (2003), and Twisted Love Songs (2007). Add to David Gansí discography The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best, his newly-released Perfectible Recordings CD.

Gansí latest was produced by the multi-talented Tim Carbone, founder/member of genre-bending "souped-up string band" Railroad Earth and producer of the critically-acclaimed Boris Garcia release Once More into the Bliss (2008). The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best was culled, with a few exceptions, from material captured during two sets of New Jersey recording sessions. Gans supplied lead vocals, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Carbone contributed violin, drums, harmonica, piano, and harmony vocals. The pair was joined by a roster of guest artists that included Carboneís Railroad Earth band-mates John Skehan (mandolin, piano, background vocals), Andy Goessling (autoharp, acoustic guitar, banjo, ukelule, baritone, 12-string guitar, National guitar, and background vocals), and Johnny Grubb (string bass).

"Shove in the Right Direction," opens The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best with a driving rhythm and jam-grass vibe that sets the tone for much of the record. The song features a catchy chorus that repeats the somewhat memorable line, "A kick in the ass is a shove in the right direction."

Gans turned in such an inspired finger-picked reading of "Down to Eugene," songwriter Jim Pageís celebration of Grateful Dead concert culture, that it garnered an endorsement from legendary Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen.

The bouncy rockabilly-styled "Like a Dog" was co-written by Gans and Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia lyricist Robert Hunter." Sounding like something straight out of a Tom Waits recording session, the percussion track was supposedly laid down by Tim Carbone on two fire extinguishers.

Another highlight of The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best is "The Bounty of the County," written by Gans with his wife Rita Hurault, and guesting Hot Buttered Rumís Zac Matthews on mandolin and supporting vocals. In the song, Gans lauds the consumption of fresh produce and celebrates a trip to his local farmerís market. The albumís very title refers to Gansí perception that the best-tasting vegetables and fruits usually turn out to be the imperfect-looking ones. The CD layout, which was designed by Boris Garciaís Jeff Otto, features photographs taken by Gans of his own produce. In a hidden bonus track, Gans even speaks to a live audience about his enthusiasm for the subject matter.

The latter half of the CD includes "Echolalia," an instrumental number written and performed in the folk-blues style and tradition. Here, Gans positively affirms his ability to caress and finesse a sweet melody armed with minimal acoustic instrumentation.

Excluding the hidden bonus track, The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best closes with the tongue-in-cheek "Itís Gonna Get Better," in which Gans, playing to optimists and cynics alike, predicts that while "itís gonna gets worse before it gets better," at least, [he] "know[s] itís gonna get better."

In essence, The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best is one of those really good albums that you know is "gonna get better" with every listen. And, while David Gans will doubtless continue to wear his myriad musical hats and maintain his jack-of-all-musical-trades status, The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best offers proof definitive that he is capable of creating a masterful solo album when the pendulum swings and the muse strikes.

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