Album Review: Love Tractor — Around the Bend (40th Anniversary)

Forty years on, it’s too easy to forget just how fertile a creative ground was the Athens, Georgia music scene of the early ‘80s. Sure, everybody knows about R.E.M. and The B-52’s, but there was lots more going on in the college town an hour’s drive eat of Atlanta. And Love Tractor was a big part of that; one of the groups in the Athens vanguard, they made a string of well-received albums, the first few on Atlanta’s own dB Recs.

The second of those, 1982’s Around the Bend, was the group’s first brush with chart action. Influential chart CMJ placed the record at a peak of #32, providing forward momentum. That was impressive in any regard; more so because Love Tractor was primarily instrumental. And as most will know, music without vocals generally has a hard time gaining a commercial foothold.

But Around the Bend was really good. Newly reissued in 2023 on butterscotch-colored translucent vinyl, the album is now poised for a second hearing (or, of course, a first listen if you missed it four decades ago).

The band’s guitar-instro vibe provides a foundation for the songs, but Love Tractor doesn’t allow itself to be hemmed in by genre boundaries. Around the Bend isn’t surf rock. Vocals do show up here and there, but more often than not they’re used as a textural element rather than a lyric delivery device. Hypnotic melodies develop over the course of refrains, and while it’s very accessible, the music is inventive, too, rewarding close and repeated listens.

The production values do place the record in its time, but that’s not a bad thing. The snare reverb isn’t overdone, which alone sets the record apart from much of what got released into the college rock universe of the early 1980s. And subtlety – a quality not often found in great supply – is the watchphrase throughout Around the Bend. The group’s guitarists and keyboardist entwine their melodic lines in a way that suggests a mindset not too removed from that of Television. Love Tractor’s unassuming approach seems to imply, “Here we are, doing our thing. You’re welcome to listen, but we’re not going to bug you about it.” And if you know what’s good for you, you will indeed listen.

This new release also includes a 12×12 liner note sheet (with a bold header imploring “Please Read…”), featuring glowing and articulate reminiscences from Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), Vanessa Briscoe Hay (Pylon), The dB’s Peter Holsapple, members of 10,000 Maniacs and three members of Love Tractor itself.