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GRAPES OF WRATH (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Grapes of Wrath EP (Can. Nettwerk) 1984
September Bowl of Green (Can. Nettwerk) 1985 (Capitol) 1986
Treehouse (Capitol) 1987
Now and Again (Nettwerk/Capitol) 1989

Playing muscular power pop, this Vancouver trio in its early days alternately resembled Southeastern bands like Let's Active and West Coast folk-rockers like Translator. The impressive four-song EP is a little short on personality but locates a viable commercial midpoint between the radio and the road. Guitarist Kevin Kane is a proficient instrumentalist and a fair vocalist; drummer Chris Hooper indicates his enthusiasm by overplaying.

September Bowl of Green retrieves one fine song ("Misunderstanding," which Chris Stamey might have written) from the EP, but puts different versions of it (and another swell tune, "Love Comes Around") on the album's Canadian and American editions. The latter replaces the original tracks with similar but inferior productions and mixes by Red Rider chief Tom Cochrane. While the Canadian cassette adds bonus tracks, the US LP release deletes a harmonious rendition of the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone."

Cochrane produced all of Treehouse, giving Grapes of Wrath a crisp, clear sound, filled with airy guitar picking, subdued if busy drumming and delectable multi-voice arrangements. Neither novel nor progressive, Treehouse is simply flawless electric pop written and played with skill and taste.

Adding keyboard player Vincent Jones, Grapes of Wrath became a quartet in time for Now and Again, another delectable record. Producer Anton Fier wraps some of the songs in quietly lush orchestrations; while the gamble doesn't pose a grave threat to the band's personality, neither is it distinct improvement. Tunes performed straight are the most easily appealing; keyboards (some played by guest star Chuck Leavell) provide an agreeable extra dimension. Repeating a peculiar (for a band with no country personality, that is) instrumental feature of Treehouse, Pete Kleinow adds pedal steel guitar to a few numbers.

[Ira Robbins]