November 11, 1996


In June, I was asked to list my 20 favorite LPs of 1996. I placed LA band Idaho's third LP, Three Sheets To The Wind, in the #12 spot. I had always liked the band, but I'd never rated them so highly.

So imagine my shock now, with so many LPs released since, that I currently consider Idaho's LP the third best album of the year (behind only The Wipers' The Herd and Whipping Boy's Heartworm).

Three Sheets to the Wind just won't come off my CD player. And when it does, it fights its way back on. I never expected this somber but pretty album to have such astonishing staying power. Three Sheet to the Wind is one of those truly remarkable LPs that requires 30-40 plays before one realizes how extraordinary it is, especially the masterful, quiet second half. Moments of subtle genius can be found throughout the album: listen to "Alive Again" for the snowy piano that taps beneath leader Jeff Martin's caffeine- darkened, tranquil voice -- a cross between contemporaries Mark Eitzel (ex- American Music Club) and Mark Kozalek (Red House Painters); pay attention to the masterful quiet moments in the glistening "A Sound Awake," or the baying, gurgled majesty of the knockout "Get You Back"; and marvel at "Pomegranate Bleeding" and "Catapult," the two pounding tracks where Martin and Dan Seta's four-string (yes, four-string) guitars shudder and hiss and squawk.

Perhaps the album's brilliance lies in the fact that it's the first Idaho LP produced by a real band, whereas earlier albums were one- or two-man efforts. Interviewing Martin after their recent New York show, he agrees a full band makes a big difference: "I started with John Berry, who recorded the first LP with me, and then I worked on the second album by myself. While touring, I learned that you can't make people play something that you wrote and expect them to play it correctly. It just doesn't work with this kind of music. So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to find people I could work with, give up some of the writing responsibilities, record an album and reproduce it live."

After noting that the result was a "more fussed over" upgrade, he adds, "We have a chemistry that's just beginning. I still look forward to doing a solo record someday," he finishes, insisting on hedging his bets.

But Jeff -- why the four-string guitars? Why don't you just use a normal six-stringer and avoid the two strings you don't use?

Martin chuckles. "Avoiding, first of all, is difficult. I never could play guitar, so the strings are further apart on these. They're really easy to play. I like the limitations, but now I want to make a five-stringer cause I want bigger chords, more notes!"


this review is/was online at Paperclips
and is available here for archival purposes only