Tobin--welcome back! This quiet songwriter has certainly been missed over here, and this little CD-EP is a nice taste of that new album of his that's coming in February. I've always enjoyed Sprout's solo work, because he's someone who can always be relied upon for quality songs. "Consistent" is the best word for Sprout's songwriting. You're not going to get anything less than his best; he's got a much better quality control mechanism than his former bandmate Bob Pollard. His backing band, which includes current Guided By Voices drummer Jim MacPherson, is also rather tight, too.
Sprout's a middle-aged guy who has an ear for a great melody and the patience to form that melody into a great song. If Guided by Voices have aspirations to be a lo-fi Who, then Tobin's doing well to be a lo-fi Badfinger. His melodies and lyrics are great; one listen to "Inside the Blockhouse" and the moving piano ballad "Doctor #8" prove that he's still got the touch. I'm also a fan of the instrumental "Branding Dennis" and the title track is a pretty good rocker that deceives you at first.
At times, Pollard's influence may seem to show, but I really think that it's more a case of Tobin's quiet yet influential role he had in making Guided by Voices' sound. As such, this is a pleasant record--some of Sprout's best work, period--and if Sentimental Stations is any indication of what his new album's going to be like, then Sprout's best work may soon be forthcoming. A fine release, an excellent appetizer, and no real surprise from this quietly talented songwriter.