By David Lindquist, The Indianapolis Star
Getting back to the garden agreed with the members of Matchbox Twenty, who recorded current album "More Than You Think You Are" at famed Bearsville Studios in upstate New York.
Bearsville, which is tucked in a forest near Woodstock, has served as the sonic laboratory for projects ranging from the Band's "Cahoots" in 1971 to R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People" (1992), Jeff Buckley's "Grace" (1994) and the Dave Matthews Band's "Crash" (1996).
Matchbox Twenty guitarist Kyle Cook, a graduate of Frankfort High School, credits the studio's barnlike atmosphere for allowing musicians to interact and make an especially "human" recording.
"We made a conscious effort to stay with certain moments, even with their flaws," Cook says during a telephone interview. "Imperfections can be beautiful."
In short, "More Than You Think You Are" represents a refreshing change of pace from the band's bloated and overproduced "Mad Season" release of 2000. Cook freely admits that he and his bandmates paid less attention to every detail this time around.
The payoff is a natural groove that's heard on tracks such as "Bright Lights."
Led off by the piano-playing and singing of vocalist Rob Thomas, the song adds -- piece by piece -- the bass guitar of Brian Yale, the acoustic guitar of Adam Gaynor, the drums of Paul Doucette and the electric guitar of Cook.
And while Cook arrives last, he dominates the final minute of "Bright Lights" with a getaway riff worthy of comparison to Eric Clapton's "Layla."
"It builds in a way five people would build a song as they were playing it," Cook says of the song's arrangement.
"Bright Lights" has all the markings of a can't-miss single. Then again, Cook wonders if it's fashionable enough. On Top 40 playlists, guitar solos are practically anachronisms.
"I love it, but do radio programmers want to hear this? Or will we bring that movement back by doing this? It's hard to say," Cook says. "I guess you just jump in. It's a great song, and it has the potential to be one of those songs on classic radio."
Yes, "Bright Lights" could slide easily between cuts from Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty. But what about co-existing with Good Charlotte and 50 Cent, current darlings of young listeners?
"I hope we have something to offer to that audience," Cook says. "I think there are certain themes and musical ideas and ways of arranging a song that never get old or tiresome."
So far, the band's record label, Atlantic, has pitched "Disease," "Unwell" and "Feel" to radio since the release of "More Than You Think You Are" last November. With luck, "Bright Lights" will get its chance to shine.
Looking ahead, 27-year-old Cook says he plans to record a debut album with the New Left, his non-Matchbox Twenty band that features fellow Frankfort High alumni John Kibler and Brett Borges, during the summer of 2004.