Win? Or Lose?

Alec Gross

Independent release, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Irony can be a ton of fun when it’s intentional.  When it appears unconscious, maybe not so much.

Most every singer-songwriter of the past 30 years who isn’t either a hack or a liar will acknowledge Joni Mitchell as some sort of an influence.  The particularly audacious -- see Adam Duritz -- might take it a step farther and cover a Joni song.  It takes a special kind of hubris, though, to go and name a song “Joni Mitchell Was Right.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

By this point, Alec Gross may be fearing the worst (“I knew Joni Mitchell.  Joni Mitchell was a friend of mine.  Alec Gross, you’re no… etc.”).  But chill, man.  I come not to bury Win? Or Lose?, but to praise it.  The irony of which I speak is that the song Mr. Gross named for Ms. Mitchell might just be this album’s weakest link. 

Far better are the breathy contemplations of “Broken In Two,” the perceptive poetry of “Cold Apples” or the spot-on love-balladry of “Favorite Dream.”  Alt-country vocalist/guitarist Gross and his four-man band the Districts do rev it up on cuts like the thumping country-rocker “Fix My Dreams,” and lead guitarist Max Sorenson and piano man Jay Hardin get some especially nice licks in on the bridge/solo section of “Cold Apples.”  But to my ears the quieter, more folk-tinged tunes are where Gross and company really nail these songs.

This may in part result from my sense that Gross sometimes misses notes on punchier cuts like “Piscataway,” but he gets points for singing like he means it, much like a certain favorite son of New Jersey who’s another acknowledged influence.  As for “Joni Mitchell Was Right (1-2-3),” it’s a really-wants-to-be-clever country-rock number about a suddenly gorgeous ex -- “She’s one, two, three strikes as pretty as before” – but the song’s punchlines lack punch and its sloppy-grin bravado is the polar opposite of Mitchell’s somber confessional style.

The occasional misfire can’t eclipse this disc’s craftsmanship, though, especially on the ballads.  Win? Or Lose? is a solid effort that suggests there is more and better to come from Gross & The Districts.

Rating: B-

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