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Published: 2001/12/19
by Brad Weiner

Live, volume 1 – Mountain Of Venus

Contrary to most beliefs, jambands are popular music. Sure
they don’t sell a bunch of records or have screaming girls calling into Total
Request Live, but they share a common thread. In the case of Mountain of Venus,
we get a copied sound that is a near perfect hybrid of Dave Matthews and Donna
Godchaux-era Grateful Dead.
Their recent release, "Live Volume 1", recorded in Boston, does what almost every
other jam inspired rock band does: it takes average songs and turns them into
In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida length epics. There are literally hundreds of bands that
pull of the same stunt. Mountain of Venus, despite their been-there-done-that
sound, are talented musicians who do what’s already been done pretty well.
The communication between bassist David Gesualdo and drummer Eric Barry is
rock solid. The rhythmic bottom is often a driving force which decides when
and where the music takes off. The first track Said and Done brews up a
smile-riffic jam which ascends to the classic jamband sound through the
soaring Hammond chops of C.R. Gruver. If I am pronouncing his name correctly,
he was obviously born to play keys. Admittedly, his organ work is impressive,
but most of his piano chops are repetitive versions of Hollingsworthian
phrasing. He overuses the synchronized fifths and octaves and sometimes
resorts to pounding on the same chord. The technique sounds great at first,
but eventually sounds repetitive over the course of the disc. Gruver manages
to rip out a beautiful solo on the album’s best track, Higher Ground (not
related to the funktified Steve Wonder version). The song is also the vocal
highlight for Tanya Shylock, who ranges anywhere from soulful (track five) to
irritating (track six). To stick with my earlier comparison, I have to at least
compliment Tanya (it even sounds like Donna) for her ability to stay on key
and not let out any exorcism-induced banshee wails.
The shortest song on the disc is just shy of six minutes, and the longest is
a 21 minute combination of two tunes. It goes without saying that
Mountain of Venus lives in the jam. Sometimes they start immediately after the
first verse. There is a difference between playing a song and letting it go
where it wants, and noodling endlessly in the same key. For the most part Live
Volume 1 is feelgood music. It would be a tragedy to call it bad, but it would
be a lie to call it innovative. It is obvious that the folks in the crowd are
having a good time and, if that’s the case, then Mountain of Venus are doing
exactly what they set out to do.

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