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Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

The Goodnight Loving

Songs for Milwaukee

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  Though he cautions that two of his band mates who once lived there might disagree with him, Andy Kavanaugh doesn't have many kind words about Green Bay.

  "We went up there in the middle of winter to record our latest album," he says of his band, The Goodnight Loving, "and it was just kind of a sober experience. Here we were in this desolate place in the middle of winter. I guess it helped us creatively, though, because it was so cold we couldn't even really go outside or hang out, and the studio was in the middle of an industrial park. We basically slept in the studio."

  The sessions for this self-titled album were a jarring change from those of The Goodnight Loving's previous album, Crooked Lake, which they recorded during a relaxing, in-season retreat at Kavanaugh's northern cottage, or their debut, Cemetery Trails, the product of leisurely hometown sessions in Milwaukee.

  Perhaps the brutal Green Bay winter is why the band sounds so nostalgic for Milwaukee on The Goodnight Loving, an album that, though seeped in rural sounds (twanging guitars, roaring harmonicas, barroom organs), pines for the hustle and bustle of a bigger city, and is peppered with affectionate allusions to Milwaukee both vague (a lakefront) and specific (the Hoan Bridge). The Milwaukee skyline quite literally hangs over the album-the cover photo frames the band with the Locust Street Bridge.

  "It's nice to place our songs," explains Colin Swinney, who like most of The Goodnight Loving's five members, splits singing/songwriting duties. "We're not setting out to make albums about Milwaukee, but we write what we know, and Milwaukee is a great inspiration. We've been all over on tour, and everywhere we go people talk about how much they love it here."

  It's hard, in fact, to picture a better house band for Milwaukee than The Goodnight Loving. The group touches on many of the sounds Milwaukeeans love most, from rollicking, country-tinged guitars to the thumping rockabilly bass and the unlabored aesthetic of '60s garage-pop, which the band shares with Dusty Medical label-mates like Elephant Walk and the Midwest Beat. And by virtue of being a band sometimes classifiable as "acoustic folk-punk," the group owes at least a cursory hat tip to The Violent Femmes, even if The Goodnight Loving's amiable romps probably owe more to the joyful "why wouldn't we use a tambourine?" throwbacks of The Feelies than the tart kiss-offs of the Femmes.

  "Some people have told us that a lot of our music is a little negative, but to me it's always a celebration," Kavanaugh says. "Even when we're singing about a serious subject, or some sort of existential experience, we try to make it rousing."

  The band's new album is the final in a trilogy of albums recorded in quick succession, Kavanaugh explains. "Really, these records don't have a lot of chronological order to them," he says. "A lot of the songs on the new one actually date back to when we were writing our first album."

  Those first two albums earned scattered but glowing reviews from blogs and zines, as well as from unlikely authorities like CMJ magazine, whose editor in chief crowned Cemetery Trails his left-field pick for album of the year in 2006. "It's the best rock album no one's heard, the best debut album by a rock band no one's heard," he wrote.

  The CMJ write-up was the type of high praise many other local bands would have trumpeted incessantly, but The Goodnight Loving are quieter in their ambitions than their peers.

   "We're just trying to make touring a paying job for us," Swinney says. "We're going to start a 10-week tour next month, three weeks on the West Coast and six weeks in Europe, so we're pretty excited about that. It's a good time to be in our band."

  The Goodnight Loving headline an LP release party at Mad Planet on Saturday, Sept. 20.