Color Me Naked – Dexter Grove
Acid Folk Music.
Those aren’t my words. They’re Dexter Grove’s, emblazoned right there
on the CD jacket. And while they may apply to this workhorse duo’s live
gigs – which I confess I’ve never heard – they do not apply to the
contents of what I’m fairly certain is their fourth studio album, Color
Oh, it’s music all right. I suppose it’s even folksy enough to call
folk, in the main at least. But the acid part? Let’s just say someone
left the vial of Sweet Breath in the sock drawer.
Unlike Dr. Hoffman’s complex brew, here we have a simple formula: a guy
on acoustic guitar who sings, and a guy who bangs on conga drums.
Charley Orlando, the guy on the guitar, sings like Steve Malkmus without
the tart existential ache, which is sort of like spaghetti without the
annoying sauce. He sings songs, all "originals" here, about mountains
and highways and freight trains and boxcars, cutting and pasting
Polaroids from a life that could belong to millions but probably does
belong to none. He sings to people – or perhaps groups of people, I
don’t know – who don’t quite have life as wired as he does.
Steve Drizos, the guy on percussion, is capable of playing very fast.
If you’re thinking these guys sound like the kind of musicians you might
have carelessly tripped over while sucking on a balloon full of
industrial-grade nitrous at some Dead show back in college, you’re
right. So was Keller Williams. The difference between Dexter Grove,
Keller and the rest of the dudes with Shakedown stickers on their
dry-rotted Yamahas is that they had the fool notion and the plain grit
to take their act on the road.
That said, consider that the difference between Dexter Grove and Keller
Williams (aside from the obvious difference in head count) is
canyonlike, and I don’t mean this in a flattering way. Now consider
that the instrumental brilliance and soulful songcraft of Keller
Williams doesn’t exactly shine its brightest in the studio, and you have
some sense of what this pair is up against. It’s a well-intentioned
concept, but without deal-with-the-Devil chops or the kind of songs that
reach into your chest and squeeze your pumping heart dry, it’s
Dexter Grove seems to understand this on some level, since they brought
in guests to assemble a de facto groove band for six of the
album’s ten tracks. Among these guys is Jim Whiton.
Wait, you ask, doesn’t Dexter Grove have a percussionist? Well, yeah,
but Jim plays bass here. To be honest, I didn’t notice much of a
difference on the "big band" numbers, apart from the presence of more
instruments. Do these guys jam, or experiment, or even nudge at
familiar boundaries? Live, perhaps, but not here.
The best tune on the album is "About To Fall," which features some deep
blue piano work from Kirk Juhas and could easily pass for a dirge by
Spiritualized (if Orlando sang big ups to intravenous junk) or by
Pavement (if he name-checked, like, Ekoostik Hookah or something).
Otherwise, the songs on Naked tend to alternate between
slightly melancholy and defiantly content. The sum effect reminded me
somewhat of a three day Motrin bender I embarked on after I pinched a
nerve in grad school; temporarily distracting, pleasantly numbing, but
ultimately lacking in genuine gratification.