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TWO COW GARAGE — III

Band's soul-searching third album has its moments

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Two Cow Garage has made a firm commitment to slogging it out in clubs across the country, having played hundreds of mostly low-profile dates annually in recent years.

While far from earning them riches or stardom, the ambitious approach has yielded the Columbus, Ohio-based ramshackle roots-rock trio hard-won critical acclaim as well as a notable friend and sometimes collaborator in former Slobberbone and current Drams frontman Brent Best.

The touring grind has seen Two Cow Garage rack up quite a bit of mileage, and not just on the trusty vans the threesome has been crammed their gear into; the band’s own odometer has been busy, too, judging by the soul-searching and self-consciousness throughout the young 20-somethings’ third album, III (Shelterhouse Records).

It doesn’t take much deciphering of the lyrics to sense the band’s disillusionment and angst. There is a “job application that’s getting harder to ignore” in the track “No Shame,” which boasts the bouncy refrain that there’s “no shame in just giving up and walking away.” Another offering, “Should’ve California,” begins with singer/guitarist Micah Schnabel grumbling that he “should have gone to college and made a lot of money.”

For all of the album’s stark honesty and often bleak portrayal of life in an act that tours heavily but has a light wallet to show for it, III is a darker and ultimately weaker batch of songs than Two Cow Garage’s more promising (and previous) effort, The Wall Against Our Back. It’s too bad because there are moments on III that suggest Two Cow Garage has much to be positive about. By now the band has honed its Crazy Horse-meets-late-1980s-Soul Asylum approach, and at its best, the trio’s chops and melodicism are beyond its years.

The anthemic, propulsive album opener “Come Back to Shelby,” in what is perhaps a nod to the band’s precociousness, contains a “sha la-la-la-la-la-la” that would make Bruce Springsteen shiver. Elsewhere, “Camaro” is a vividly detailed ballad about a night of young backseat love that shows the boys can render tunes that feel wholly authentic, lived in and, most importantly, make for an enjoyable listen — when they are not bemoaning the travails faced by under-the-radar indie rockers.

— By George Henn