Athens, Georgia’s Love Tractor started out playing instrumental rock’n’roll, with reference points in the non- vocal golden rock era of two decades ago. Unlike the Raybeats, they’re not so style-conscious, so you get far fewer sly references to the Ventures and other camp heroes, and more outright flirtation with fusion and cocktail lounge muzaks. Though the material is inconsistent, Love Tractor never lacks poise.
The quartet exhibits new polish on Around the Bend, seeking to avoid stagnation by adding vocals on a few tracks. Not very memorable ones, though. The diverting ‘Til the Cows Come Home EP fails to answer questions about Tractor’s future path, since it’s a compilation of odds and ends. Wheel of Pleasure is likewise a sampler of the group’s work, assembled for the English market. (In 1986, Love Tractor and Around the Bend were joined on one cassette and issued as Double Play.)
Produced (and played on) by ex-Raybeat Pat Irwin, Outerspace Ship sees the lads plunging wholeheartedly into vocals, with chirpy singing (led by guitarist Michael Richmond) that’s a natural extension of their twinkly guitars. Breezy rockers like “Beatle Boots” and “Cartoon Kiddies” are charming enough, but such ephemera ultimately seems like a dubious achievement. When it’s done, you’ll feel like you’ve pigged out on cotton candy. Weird cover: a semi-funky take on the Gap Band’s “Party Train.”
Featuring a typically crisp Mitch Easter production job, Themes From Venus continues in the direction of Outerspace, with even more sunny, forgettable vocals. Richmond resembles a less nutty Robyn Hitchcock this time. The lightweight instrumental “Nova Express” inspires fond memories of the band’s early days, when Love Tractor was more distinctive. The CD adds two.