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Published: 2001/07/17
by Derek Kipp

Live Without A Crowd, volume II – Dexter Grove

Dexter Grove
I confess I’m not fully versed on most musical criticism of our latest
decade, so I don’t know if I can still coin the term "Mountain Sound".
If I could, I would.
Dexter Grove, a pair of musicians relying on voice and acoustic guitar
(Charley Orlando) and percussion (Steve Drizos) for the whole of their
sound, isn’t from the Rockies. Nor do they need to be. (They formed in
upstate New York.) But I was not simply conned by the picturesque
alpine setting of this live recording from Yellowstone National Park in
the heady summer of 2000. Had I never seen the geyser on the cover I
still would have pinned the Mountain Sound on them. And they shouldn’t
mind too much. In this age when musicians are more plentiful than ever,
they are in good company — their sound instantly reminded me of other
Mountain Time Zone acts such as the Samples and String Cheese Incident,
just for starters.
I’m putting no authority on my lazy musical terminology, and I don’t mean
to diminish the Dexter duo’s hard work by their association with the
acclaimed, hard-working bands above. I merely mean to point out
similarities that don’t have to be dug for.

Here’s what I mean: the music I loosely call the Mountain Sound
possesses a kindred spirit when I hear it. Rhythm rules, and is usually
as lively as a galloping horse or a motoring truck gearing through the
pass. Bounding along on copacetic chords of wooden guitar, hearty of
strum and rare to solo, playing more for teamwork. Refrains are usually
full of wonder, celebration, or yearning, or some earthy combination.
Lyrics are frequently introspective, suggestive of a rugged soul
contemplating life and himself in the humbling presence and giddy air
of the mountains, earth’s own masterworks. Freedom, especially
personal, once the battle cry of frontier settlers, is a revered and
recurring theme. This sound owes to folk and country and roots music at
large more than it owes to the flash, slash, navel-gazing, gyration and
grind of more recent strains of popular music. Where rarely is wrought
a dissonant thought, and soulful optimism (or, looking back, nostalgia)
shines all day… this tends to be tasteful, upbeat music as well.
And it certainly trots forth alive and
vibrant, and its not for me to call a bad thing, even if – as I’ve felt
about the Samples and String Cheese – there tends to seem a certain
sameness among many of the songs. This must be a difficult enough
obstacle for a band of two to begin with. Frequent infusions of
passionate energy and carefully varied tempos seem to resist this
sameness, with some success. Slower passages let Drizos’ tasteful
percussion instruments be heard in the spaces between, while Orlando’s
energizing guitar strumming and somewhat emotive growl of a voice keeps
the steam going in the two-man locomotive. The two work in tight
collusion to build up to peaks, then flatten out to chase each other
across a jam-friendly meadow, perhaps fording a ravine of percussion
breakdown (as in Pictures From the Real) before bringing it all back
home, like a headlight on a northbound trai— oops, I’m getting carried
away.
The sparse sound makes one appreciate
the camaraderie of two musicians with many miles behind them and many
shows between. They deftly segue jams into new songs with switches of a
the strummed chords and a subtle hitch in the drumming, then burst into
the next piece with the enthusiasm of a hiker rounding a bend to new
vistas.
Now that I’ve abused the obvious mountainous analogies, let me let
these hikers go on their way with a friendly word, for it is friendly
music, and if I were to disparage it I would only be reflecting my own
shortcomings, my own desires for something more melodically intense and
perhaps less constantly reflective, my own craving for some kind of
more vivid creative tension. But my boredom is my own problem, out here
on the trail where the songs begin to sound too similar and the themes
of self-celebration and elevation grow thin with time. I can only
wonder if Dexter Grove will continue this apparent pattern of releasing
their live material in homespun discs, and naturally, I wish them well
at it. Go grass roots, baby.

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