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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2011/01/25
by Mike Gruenberg

Lucinda Black Bear

In My Life

I must confess that when I received the latest album by Lucinda Black Bear called Knives to review; I was a bit perplexed by the name of the band. Considering that I grew up listening to bands with unique sounding names like the Beatles, Stones, Vanilla Fudge, 13th Floor Elevator, Sopwith Camel, etc I began to wonder what type of sound this group would present to me. Discovering a new band because of their catchy name was always an integral part of my record store browsing experiences. I have always found it mildly amusing to hear the names of the latest rock groups and try to imagine what their music will sound like before the first song is played. It’s always fun to imagine how the tunes will turn out. Once we get past imagination, all the speculation falls away when one listens to an album for the first time. Because as we all know, the catchy name and cover art only takes you so far.

Of course, with such a unique name, I couldn’t help but think of when the Beatles came to prominence and the bands that followed with distinctive animal names like the Byrds and Monkee’s that were immediately born. I wonder if Lucinda B.B. will spurn others to give names to their band like Juanita Red Fox, Billy White Whale or Prudence Blue Herron.

Names and frivolity aside, I began to listen to the Lucinda Black Bear album. I almost expected the tunes on Knives to be a derivation of music from Native American tribes, much like the Robbie Robertson solo album released in 1994 called Music for Native Americans. I was therefore surprised to find out that the music contained in the album bears no resemblance to Native American music, grizzly bears or even a lady named Lucinda.

Knives is one of those albums that take you on a journey through many styles of music with touches of musical brilliance throughout. However, once you hear a particular song that you like and have seemingly settled in to hear the next offering, the band takes you into an entirely different musical plateau on the following track. I heard traces similar in style to Talking Heads, Beatles, Left Banke, Elliott Smith, Love, and Radiohead to go along with a few tunes that could have been written and performed by Lou Reed.

Moreover, you cannot hear Knives just once to gain full appreciation of the musicianship contained on the album. You have to give it time and it will age gracefully after a few listenings. And in the end, you come away with an enormous amount of respect for Christian Gibbs who leads Lucinda Black Bear and who has assembled a very talented group of musicians to back him up.

This album can be described as a dichotomy. The music is a mixture of genres and each one on its own merit would give the band a definite identity to build on. But since there are so many different styles, I struggled to understand who the band wants themselves to be. Is it Baroque Rock, Folk, Alternative, C&W, Pop Rock, Punk, etc.? All those elements can be found in the grooves of “Knives”. It’s great for the band to demonstrate their musical chops, but somewhat disconcerting for the listener who is trying to classify the bands’ music into a specific genre.

The first song on the Knives album is a tune called “Knives” and it’s brilliantly crafted. The opening bars consist of a string solo that is reminiscent of the background music of a mystery movie. Christian Gibbs’ lead vocal is very powerful and the weaving of the opening musical theme is beautifully meshed throughout the song. “Knives” has a Talking Heads feel to it and David Byrne could well have performed this song.

“Percival” is a tune that has a baroque feel to it and is a story about dancing bears. Is this song a hint of the derivation for the name of the group? Probably not. However, the musical arrangement allows the listener to actively imagine a bunch of dancing bears standing on their heads and then performing pirouettes. The music lends itself to great mind pictures. Very melodic and pleasant to hear, but “Percival” bears no resemblance in style to the first cut on “Knives”. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but this singular theme of the uniqueness of each individual song is present throughout the album.

Lucinda Black Bear is led by Christian Gibbs, with Mike Cohen on bass, Kristin Mueller on drums and Chad Hammer on cello. On many occasions, you will find LBB augmented by Gillian Rivers on violin. This is one those groups that I would absolutely find the time to see them perform when they will come to my city. I feel this way because I want to witness first-hand the musicianship of each band member. Moreover, I’d like to watch how the musical arrangement of each song is built upon. Whatever the derivation of the name, Lucinda has the potential to be a group that can produce some very unique music and I for one, will be following their career.

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