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Illustration for article titled iThe Next Great American Band/i: 3 Cut To Winner
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Illustration for article titled iThe Next Great American Band/i: 3 Cut To Winner

When I ceased covering The Next Great American Band for The TV Club a month ago, I promised to say a few words about the series before it disappeared from the airwaves. (Likely for good, given how Fox has kind of buried the show). Well, tonight was the final night. So let's check out the contenders:

Denver And The Mile High Orchestra

I caught some flack from Denver fans early in the season when I badmouthed their big-band-disco hybrid act. But I'm sorry, I have to agree with NGAB's pissy foreign judge, Dicko: These guys are an above-average cruise ship attraction at best, with a weak-ass lead singer and zero edge. They're the kind of band that offers what people say they want–something upbeat, freshly scrubbed and thoroughly retro–but those same people likely won't buy the band's records, or request their songs on the radio. Just listen to The Mile High Orchestra's key original, "You Move Me," which they performed a couple of times on the show. It's tightly played but utterly unimaginative, deploying a style of "funk" that sounds like it was first sketched on a chalkboard by some high school marching band director (or perhaps provided by the "funk" setting on the keyboard player's Casio).

Anyway, halfway through tonight's episode, Denver and the boys were summarily dismissed, with little warning that their dismissal was about to occur. And then there were two…

The Clark Brothers

I also caught some flack earlier this season for bristling at the judges' continual harping on The Clark Brothers' "values," which by the end of the season was being supported by footage of them walking around Los Angeles, feeling adrift. Let me clarify: I'm not doubting that The Clark Brothers are committed Christians, or that they're more comfortable down on the farm than in the big city. But they've been a touring act for some time now, and as I know from personal experience covering the music biz–and as we should all know from reading the newspapers over the past couple of years–the most publicly "faithful" folks are often the ones out there out there sinnin'. I'm not saying that's so with The Clark Brothers, but regardless, given that the band's music is far more flexible and far-reaching than mere CCR fodder, it does them a disservice to try to pigeonhole them in that particular way. (Though I do admit that it's been interesting in a "this is how people really are" way to hear so much open mention of God on network TV. Between The Next Great American Band and this week's Clash Of The Choirs, it was a banner month for The Lord.) As for The Clark Brothers' music, all season long it was the most potentially exciting each week, because the guys played well, arranged inventively, and sang their balls off for us, baby. But they showed some weaknesses too, especially vocally. With their own material, The Clark Brothers brought it. But the main dude often showed a lack of range when it came to the covers.

Anyway, they made for an interesting contrast with their chief competition…


…the third Nashville-affiliated band in the final three, and kind of a ringer, since they've been through the industry combine before. (Although in a way, The Clark Brothers are ringers too…as a sextet, they had a record deal six years ago.) I confess that of all the bands that competed on this show, I thought The Clark Brothers and Sixwire were the best of the bunch. The latter were consummate professionals, capable of turning any songwriters' song into a tightly played rockin'-country number. And they actually got more "rock" as the contest wore on, perhaps to distinguish themselves from the other roots-oriented bands. In the end, even though Sixwire has some hits-in-the-making already in their repertoire–like the anthemic "Good To Be Back"–they've lacked the strange spark of The Clark Brothers. I enjoyed watching Sixwire live, but I can already imagine what their record will sound like, and I'm not sure I'd want to buy it. The more deep-woodsy Clark Brothers, meanwhile, make a kind of from-the-gut music that few radio stations today will play. To some extent, Denver and Sixwire have already won just by being on NGAB so long. But The Clark Brothers really needed the record deal that was the show's major prize.

So good for them for winning. I may or may not buy the album that The Clark Brothers eventually put out–if it comes out in 2008, I definitely won't–but I'll be very interested to hear what they're going to focus on. Religious folk? Gritty acoustic rock? Bluegrass breakdowns? Pop-country hits? I'm not sure even The Clark Brothers know what their "sound" is, which is what made them the most interesting band in the competition.

As for the show as a whole, it came out far better than I'd expected. When the concept was first announced, there was a lot of concern among music fans and TV-watchers that the series would follow the American Idol format so closely that it would become "The Next Great American Cover Band." But even though NGAB was cover-heavy, the bands also got to perform a lot of originals, and received good feedback from the judges–especially Dicko, who was kind enough to couch his criticisms, but still wasn't afraid to tell a popular band that they didn't deserve to win. Even though the ratings were low and the cultural buzz practically nil, the producers and judges put on this show with class and skill. It was easy to watch, and a fun way to close out each week. I hope it gets another chance. (Though I more urgently hope that the writer's strike will get settled, and scripted series will return to the air.)

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-The medley of Christmas songs featuring voted-off bands made me want to vote them off all over again.

-I'm gone for the next week, leaving tomorrow to spread some holiday cheer to my in-laws on the South Georgia coast. I'll try to access the internet periodically (so play nice, kids), but otherwise I'll see you back at The TV Club in 2008 for Lost, The Shield, and the few remaining episodes of House, as well as whatever mop-up work needs doing. Happy Holidays, ya'll.

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