Jim Crego and Chris Benson both sing, write and play guitar and bass in God’s Favorite Band. (Drummer Andy Wolf completes the Minneapolis trio.) Crego is the poppier of the pair; Benson is partial to the sensual pleasures of heavy Midwest noise-rock. Although Shacknasty nearly sags under the rippling punky power-trio weight of it all, Crego’s excellent songs (all co-written with someone outside the band) surge with a burly melodicism that owes something to Kiss on one hand (“Die Trying”) and the Magnolias on the other (“Shirtjack,” “The Knot,” the superb “Something to Cry About”). For his numbers, Benson tests a slow-rolling roar (“Seven Days”), screaming riffology (“Two Bit Compromise”) and a quiet surprise (“Cosmic Blue Stem”). Offering listeners a choice works to GFB’s benefit; if the right one doesn’t get you, the left one will. And if neither does the trick, the album’s bonus track nails Shacknasty closed with 25 minutes of unvarying guitar distortion.
Displaying a more creative sense of humor, In Through the Out House is packaged in careful tribute to Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, complete with sepia-tinted bar-photo cover and rubber-stamped brown bag wrapper. That, of course, is where the resemblance ends. Both Benson and Crego are shifting towards a midpoint compromise in their songwriting (Benson’s adjustment is dramatic), converging on a taut, economical rock style with both tunes and riffs. Benson does the album’s adventuring, essaying the speed-country sound of “Chunky Sentence,” the acoustic balladry of “Delilah,” the Westerbergian restraint of “Ghost Town” and the hard pop of “Angel in the Dust.” Crego simply delivers the album’s standout, the uptight and self-critical “Who’s Kiddin’ Who?” Typical of the improved creativity and judgment that characterizes the entire undertaking, the brief bonus track is perfectly harmless.
The differences between Crego’s and Benson’s contributions are more emotional than stylistic on the serious and straightforward Down to the Filter. The former’s songs are disillusioned and regretful, while the latter is just depressed and lonely. This is not a happy band, but the two men manage to channel their problems into affecting music. Collectively light years ahead of what it was on Shacknasty, GFB now has enough musical breadth to incorporate keyboards (played by guest pianist/organist Steve Olson) and sophisticated guitar interplay in the arrangements. A substantial, accomplished and exciting album.