Small Stone’s first release of 2011 — “Baby New Year,” if you will — is a reworking of Ohio rockers Lo-Pan’s much-revered 2009 second offering, Sasquanaut. What was one of the best riff-rock releases of its original year of issue is bound to stand up also to whatever the rest of 2011 brings, as the album has been completely remixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios in Massachusetts and remastered by Chris Goosman. I never really thought of the fidelity of the original Sasquanaut as a problem, but hearing this new version — which has the exact same tracklist in the exact same order — there really is a palpable difference, most notably in the guitar of Brian Fristoe.
Where Fristoe was somewhat held back in the mix of the original Sasquanaut, Grotto brings him front and center on the Small Stone version, still allowing Jeff Martin’s soulful vocals to cut through, but definitely beefing up the tone and giving cuts like “Kurtz” and “Dragline” a feel much closer to what Lo-Pan sounds like live than they had before. The same holds true for the bass of Skot Thompson, which is fuller and more natural sounding, and while J. Bartz’s drum sounds were a big part of what made Sasquanaut so killer in the first place, they too have been given a working over, to their benefit. There’s more separation in the instruments all around, and as the groove “Vega” is maintained, there’s no way it was going to come out a loss for anyone who, like me, already dug the album before.
One thing I notice in listening to Sasquanaut now is how much more dynamic the band sounds. Where previously I thought of Lo-Pan as only really offering straightforward stoner grooves (and excellent ones at that), hearing the slower approach of “Kramer” now, I get a sense of an entirely different mood, not just a change in tempo. I’ll allow this might be me reading into it, but it’s true nonetheless. Likewise, the memorable doubled vocals from Martin on “Vego” seem to stand out more in the song, sounding more like an event than a simple call and response mechanism. What remains constant across both editions of Sasquanaut is Lo-Pan’s ability to write a driving, catchy rock song in a well-established aesthetic while still sounding original, vibrant and exciting. Doubtless that’s what brought them to the attention of Small Stone in the first place.
Fans of Sasquanaut’s prior incarnation will be thrilled at the aural improvements of the new version, and anyone who didn’t hear the record before who’s still reading this, consider it recommended. More than anything else, what this reissue does is to build my anticipation for Lo-Pan’s follow-up full-length, set to be recorded with Grotto at Mad Oak sometime in 2011. If this is what Grotto can accomplish with the raw materials the band gave him from their original studio sessions, I can’t help but be excited to see what he and the band come up with working together from the start. As we’re undoubtedly a ways off from that here in late 2010, I’m just happy to have this new Sasquanaut to tide me over. The potential here is still as palpable as it was when the album was just released.Columbus, Lo-Pan, Ohio, Small Stone