David McGee, The Bluegrass Special:
Some may fault Gans for the didactic strain of some of his songs (the frisky banjo- and fiddle-fired album opener, “Shove In the Right Direction,” set in the current dire economic climate, advises, “Crisis is opportunity/if you know how to look…you can’t go running blind through life/you got to pay attention/A kick in the ass is a shove in the right direction.”), but he’s so good natured and folksy about it you have to give him a pass.
Deborah Grabien, Green Man Review:
.... Gans has a light, personal touch on guitar, and he knows how to get his points across, both instrumentally and lyrically....
David Gans does not come to singing by effortless grace, by his own admission. He has worked long and hard, and paid a lot of performance dues, to become the singer and player that he is today. But a hell of a lot of artists do not sing like James Taylor or Judy Collins, so c’est la vie. The ones that sound the weirdest sometimes taste the best.
What longtime (eons!) Grateful Dead Hour host Gans has succeeded at doing, through perseverance, love, and labor---and, yes, talent---is becoming a highly ambitious songwriter and accomplished guitarist. Both are in evidence on this, his finest recorded hour (give or take a minute.) The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best is a friendly and imaginative production with a decidedly acoustic “real music” feel, courtesy of a few crackerjack multiinstrumentalists (Consider Andy Goessling’s arsenal alone: autoharp, banjo, guitar, ukulele, clarinet, bass clarinet, 12-string, steel guitar, barisax, vocals.) Splendidly recorded, lovingly arranged, carefully crafted, the eleven songs on the album are like family members: recognizable as part of the same gene pool, but each with a distinct presence. This stylistic variety---from whimsical to heartfelt to sarcastic to angry---is highly laudable, and all too rare among contemporary artists. The banjo-fiddle-driven “Shove in the Right Direction” has a hook that the Grateful Dead might have enjoyed grooving on (or The Dead might still?), “The Bounty of the County,” a paean to produce (!), is charming, and “Down to Eugene” is a jaunty, if a bit late, anthem for traveling Deadheads.
Gans bites dog: the songwriter does right by lyricist Robert Hunter on “Like a Dog, ” a wonderfully bilious piece, then waxes optimistic on “It’s Gonna Get Better (though this cynic remains unconvinced). “An American Family” is perhaps the most intriguing lyric on the record, as Gans somewhat bitterly explores the attitudes of three family members beset by vagaries and disenchantments of the 21st century. (“When my optimism falters, I just turn on channel 2/ to wallow in nostalgia for a life I never knew. ” Ouch.) There is also a comparative rarity among balladeers: a nice instrumental, “Echolalia.”
But for my money, what there is of it, the standout track here is a forthright denunciation of the gawd-fearing, self-righteous poisoning so much of contemporary discourse and life. “Save Us From The Saved” says everything that needs to be said about the worldwide cancer of religious zeal. Pointed, witty, bitter, true. An important song. The Dixie Chicks should cover it, and maybe one or two others on this disc.
J. Evan Wade, Homegrown Music Network:
"...a charming, homespun collection of original songs that illustrate his roots in folk and jam rock."
Dennis Cook, jambase:
"Though the title suggests Captain Beefheartian oddity, this is in fact a very lovely, fairly pure folk-rock album, and perhaps David Gans finest recorded hour to date…. Gans has quietly grown & grown as a singer-songwriter in his own right, and his latest collection elevates him to the stature of John Gorka, David Wilcox and Greg Brown in the modern folk pantheon."
Genette Nowak, Jezebel Music:
Gans is onto something, boosting morale. It does seem to be the year for change.
Nick Hutchinson, Associated Content:
“…an artful collection of low-key, nicely produced songs that meander refreshingly like a backwoods brook."
Bill Whiting, Honest Tune:
Most know David Gans as the host of the long running radio program, The Grateful Dead Hour. Now, they will know him for the addictive long-player, The Ones That Look The Weirdest Taste The Best.
Jud Conway, Kindweb.
... The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best is one of those really good albums that you know is "gonna get better" with every listen.
John Patrick Gatta, jambands.com
Gans tackles the downturn of the working class, romantic bliss, organically-grown food, and resisting the haters in the name of God. What it lacks in strength, Gans’s voice makes up in a slightly grizzled been-there-seen-that wisdom. That aspect to his tone comes especially handy on “An American Family,” the opposite of the wide-eyed enthusiasm embraced on “Down to Eugene.” The song chronicles those still trying to find their way to the American Dream. While the majority of The Ones That Look… revel in a rootsy atmosphere, this is the closest to a jam track that expands the basic structure before making a soft landing and returning to the next verse. The acoustic sounds are also gently nudged in subtle electric directions with the lap steel and loping pace of “Headin’ Home Already, which gives the tune a New Riders of the Purple Sage feel. Likewise, the yearning “Autumn Day” bears influence from Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, with an Americana-meets-Los Lobos soundtrack.
These are grownup songs (mostly), about things that matter. Although it's not a concept album, it has a graceful dramatic arc.
I just gave a listen to TOTLTWTTB, and I wanted to let you know how very impressed I am with it. The production values are great, the players are superb, and I liked the range of moods, from inward-looking and heartfelt to acerbic and political. Your vocals are spot-on on every track. And you're right, the little instrumental episode in "Real Love" is a delight. It seems clear that, as you say in the credits, Carbone was really on your wavelength with this project; everything is there to further the idea of the song and not just to add glitter (unlike some producers we could mention). I hope you're as proud of what you've done here as I think you should be.
Tim Carbone's production decisions are spot on and do what production decisions should, namely serve the songs. I like that composition remains the focal point throughout, melody and lyric in the spotlight. This is definitely my favorite version of "An American Family." Love the warped instrumental break, as unhinged as the life being chronicled. "That's Real Love" is one of the most fully realized tracks on the album. Such a perfect sense of itself. The clarinet interlude is brilliant. Really knocked over by the intro to "Save Us From The Saved," one of my favorite Gans tunes, really makes it even more haunting and beautiful. The string and mandolin embellishments throughout are totally fantastic. Again, serving the melody and lyrics. Oh, and the piano, of course, is awesome on this track. Perfect that "The Bounty of The County" sits smack dab in the middle of the sequence, source of the album's title and spirit. "Like a Dog" is the album's masterpiece, though, a mangy oddball of a thing. Great song amplified by a great arrangement. Overall, an awesome piece of work. The ones that sound the weirdest work the best!
Barry Smolin, KPFK-FM, Los Angeles