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best overall
Story By Mike Overall, Photos By Lindsey Little

When Plain Meanness takes the concert or dance stage, the group sparkles with a musical verve, albeit it of an eclectic variety, that is simply impossible for its legions of dedicated fans to resist. The four-piece group never takes itself too seriously, in part because its members are long on musical wit, playfulness, and the brand of empathetic euphoria that comes from sharing the musical depth that enables them to shine with true originality at moments most unexpected and creatively inspired. Oh, and one more thing: Plain Meanness has one whale of a good time performing inspired music for discriminating fans who eschew the pap of today’s mass-produced pop album.

Members of the group are Greg Arnold of Jonesboro, drummer extraordinaire (who sits perched behind his massive bass drum, a 32-incher, illuminated from within, a paean to those percussionists from the early years of the last century); leader Patrick Dailey of Marked Tree, guitar, vocals and the band’s most prolific lyricist; Derek Doyle of Poplar Bluff, Mo., upright bass, an accomplished jazz performer who’s at home in every music genre imaginable; and classical/jazz/rock trumpeter Grant Harbison of Jonesboro, whose brass sparkle adds a special luster to the group’s sound.

The band’s new CD, due out on Nov. 15 which was recorded and mixed in Arnold’s studio, was mastered in a Nashville studio by a former Jonesboro resident, Brad Vosburg. “We’d like for the recording to appeal to a lot of people,” Arnold said, “because our fans represent a cross-section of music lovers of all ages and musical persuasions.” While Arnold and the band know only too well that the music business has its own set of inherent vagaries, Arnold said too much hard work, originality and dediciation went into the recording not to give it a much-deserved commercial push.
“We’ll market The Sower and The Reaper (CD) around and see what we can come up with,”Arnold said. He also noted that while many of today’s groups are into “fusion,” the stylistic melting pot that Plain Meanness programs is new and different in its eclectism, or the homage it pays to styles of music whose common denominator is musical excellence in the hands of its creators.

During a recent interview at Arnold’s store, Back Beat Music, 128 Southwest Drive, the members were asked to comment on the various styles of music they perform, whether on the concert stage, or for dancers. “When we played for the (Craighead County-Jonesboro Public) library last winter, we had to tone things down a bit,” Arnold grinned, noting that the diversification of that audience for the librtary’s winter-concert series. “We had listeners of all ages, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers to older persons....As a result, we tailored the show to the audience, which must have been a success because we got a rousing ovation plus an invitation to come back next year.”

On most other gigs, the band, again with an original arrangement or compositional twist thrown in for good measure, performs old-time country and western tunes, rockabilly staples, surf rock, a smattering of jazz, and even some punk material. But as the good-humored bassist Doyle put it, “Aw...for the most part you can just say that we love to play Rock and Roll,” which for Plain Meanness covers a great deal of musical ground.
Plain Meanness emerged, Arnold explained, approximately two years ago, “from three local reputable acts, The Last Farewell, Gardenia Sweat and The Sea Monsters.” Once the current personnel were on board, the group began the long, arduous, frequently challenging and “fun beyond imagining” process of establishing their own musical identity, or unique style.

Lest you think the name Plain Meanness implies that the band is comprised of an aggregation of musical outlaws who’re hellbent-for-leather to, well, raise their own special brand of underworld antics, you’d be at a very lengthy remove from the truth. In fact, as guitarist/vocalist/composer Dailey, who has his master’s in English, explained, the name comes from esteemed Southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s celebrated short story, A Good Man is Hard To Find. As O’Connor wrote of her characters in that treatise on good and evil, ....”and the meanness of them sparkled because deep inside each and every one of us is the faculty to be good; that capacity to sparkle.”

Or as one literary critic summed up O’Connor’s masterful story, “It’s grace versus the glamour of evil in A Good Man Is Hard to find....And the meanness of them sparkled.”

The “meanness” Plain Meanness dispenses when they’re on stage is a white-hot spark whose generative powers emanate from superb musicians, from four guys who have it within them to be, when the occasions demands it, self-effacing, wildly humorous (with a little harmless crazinesss thrown in for good measure), eminently creative, and infused with a collective joy that strikes their fans as downright infectuous.

Forgive the pun, but Greg Arnold, around whom the band gathers out of pure respect, is not one given to banging his own drum for self-aggrandizement. Quiet and purposeful by nature, Arnold, who opened Back Beat in 1995 (two years after he and his wife Bridgette bought the building), is a true force in music, both on and off stage. To generatons of musicians, Arnold has been their mentor, their teacher, and their champion of quality and professionalism in the art of music. The name Greg Arnold and professionalism are interchangeable.

To learn more about Plain Meanness, their itinerary, the band’s new CD, along with the legendary guest artists who are featured on it, visit their Web site: www.plainmeanness.com.