Out of Line EP
Out of Line is the debut EP by Omaha four-piece Two Shakes. It opens on an awkward foot as "Steppin Stone" is a cover song that isn't a cover song. Now, I'm willing to admit that there are a limited number of human emotions, song ideas, words and phrasing out there, but when a song is called "Steppin Stone," you have to try a bit harder to differentiate yourself from the Monkees' 1967 "Steppin Stone." While TS's version has different lyrics, different chords and is a funky, southern-fried blues rocker as opposed to the Monkees psych-pop, the idea is the same: a woman is using this man as a stepping stone into a higher station in life. That is a minor quibble, though, and I just thought I'd point it out, not so much as a dig against this band, but as an idea about music as a whole, which is a subject for a whole other thing that I won't get into now.
Tony Toszer has an expressive blues vocal, with hints of Anthony Kieidis' styling-- lot of elongated words next to half-spoken/half-sung takes. He has a great voice within his own comfort area, but the times he tries to stretch his vocals beyond a certain point, they can sound forced and strained. The rhythm section of Standford Swanson (bass) and Chas Ortman (drums) holds up the back end well enough, and even get their own chances to shine on "Steppin Stone" and "The Man" (both moments preceded by a "Break it down" by Tony). Jake Maneman has a great sludgy tone, and an ear for a riff or two, but his guitar can sound underpowered at times ("Bitter Pill" and "Renaissance Man" especially). Where he needs to sound huge and pummeling, he comes off like a kid kicking you in the shins.
Still though, this is a rock album, and the main question here is: does it rock? The answer is yes, all six tracks are rowdy bar-burners. Hell, the intro to "Moral Code" is enough to burn down an entire city block. But, and I know this is a lot to be asking from an EP, there needs to be dynamics between songs: they can't all be balls-to-the-wall rock all the time. There needs to be a slow song, something to give the listener a moment to drink that beer that "The Man" taught them to fight for. I'm not saying it needs to be a string heavy power ballad, but something a little more contemplative or introspective. Again, this is all more of an LP complaint, and an six song EP can't be expected to have that much range between songs. Hopefully Two Shakes will have an LP someday, and hopefully they learn to shake things up a bit when they do.