The Leatherwoods were a loose duo comprised of Kansas-to-Minneapolis transplants Todd Newman and Tim O’Reagan, with assistance from utility man “Pablo Louseorama” (aka Paul Westerberg, who co-wrote two songs while contributing guitar, bass and keyboards). Topeka Oratorio is a lost classic that skirts the edges between exuberant power pop and mournful folk-rock, a record that’s all the more lovable because it’s so utterly minor. The well-observed songs are mostly small-town sketches and bittersweet, overly romanticized romances: imagine Mark Eitzel’s worldview fused with the deft musical drive of (early) Marshall Crenshaw and you’d have the lilt of gems like “She’s Probably Gonna Lie,” “Wastin All My Time,” the bubblegummy “Jamboree” and the outright rocker “Don’t Go Down.” “Lost dogs don’t ever have their day,” Newman notes on “Happy Ain’t Coming Home,” one of several wrenchingly gorgeous ballads, and so it was with the Leatherwoods.
O’Reagan went on to play drums with Joe Henry and the Jayhawks, and piecing together a solo album. Newman returned to Kansas, leaving behind an embittered, only half-humorous ditty called “The Twin Tone Years” (“all I got is this lousy T-shirt”). That’s one of the six songs on Too Sad for Words, a record that lacks the esprit of its predecessor but essentially offers more of the same: acoustic garage-pop with jaunty melodies, aching vocals and a generally downbeat demeanor.