CD Review of All Done in Good Time by Greg Summerlin
Recommended if you like
The Beautiful South, The Lilac Time, Prefab Sprout
Label
Superphonic
Greg Summerlin:
All Done in Good Time

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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G
reg Summerlin’s bio says he’s from Alabama, and this album’s liner notes say it was recorded in Minneapolis, but there must have been some kind of mixup at the pressing plant, because All Done in Good Time sounds for all the world as though it was made on a British hillside during a sunny spring morning. Young Southern Caucasian musicians are supposed to join alt.country bands (like Summerlin’s old outfit, the Quinsonics), not craft Britpop concept albums, right?

Oh, right – it’s a concept album. But don’t use that as an excuse to dismiss Good Time out of hand. For one thing, the “concept” – as with most album-length song suites – is universal enough to be essentially meaningless; you can listen to this front to back without ever realizing Summerlin is trying to tell the story of someone named Polly Shields. (Other characters include her father, Mr. Shields, and two guys named Johnny the Revelator and Timmy the Deceiver. Really, it doesn’t hurt to ignore any of this.) For another thing – and most importantly – Good Time is closer to the Who than Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Jethro Tull. Yes, we’ve all suffered through prog punchbowl turds such as Tarkus and Thick as a Brick. Put them out of your mind: there are no armadillo tanks to be found here.

What you will find, in spades, are loads of happily retro pop hooks; imagine what it might have sounded like if Ian Broudie and Pete Townshend had joined forces in the late ‘80s, and you’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood. If you ever get nostalgic for the days when “alternative rock” wasn’t shorthand for nü metal, you’ll get a kick out of these songs. None of them are beat-you-over-the-head catchy, but there aren’t any wasted parts, either; unlike most concept records, Good Time never loses the plot, and Summerlin never gives the impression that he’s bent over backwards to shoehorn any particular track into the storyline.

And about that storyline: No, it really doesn’t hurt to pretend it isn’t there, but if you’re so inclined, you can leaf through the lyric booklet and leaf along as Summerlin tells the tale of Polly Shields’ life and times – and odds are you’ll find it genuinely affecting. Summerlin’s got a gift for storytelling, and that (not to mention his fluid, compact melodies) help elevate hoary clichés like the father-daughter argument in “Just Listen Tonight.” Lines like “I have tried to be your anchor / But these ties are frayed and thin” could harpoon the album in lesser hands, but here, they’re as simple as they are powerfully effective.

In that simplicity lays the heart of All Done in Good Time’s appeal. Summerlin set out to tell a story, but he doesn’t shove it down your throat, and the album is unavoidably retro, but not self-consciously so. The result is a batch of warm, sweetly addictive pop songs with no shortage of personality. We can never get enough of those, can we?

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