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Published: 2002/03/20
by Michael Lello

Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch – Brett Garsed/TJ Helmerich
Garry Willis/Dennis Chambers/Scott Kinsey

Tone Center 40162
Every once in a while prog rock, fusion and/or jam giants get together, play
their instruments at jawdropping speeds and record the output just to show
how good they are. Sometimes these mostly one-off affairs are just excuses
for mutual admirers to play together and no fan base is expected to be
generated. Maybe that was the intention for
Garsed/Helmerich/Willis/Chambers/Kinsey (herafter referred to as GHWCK), but
the results are suprisingly listenable.

Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch comes off sounding a lot like prog metal
outfit Dream Theater, or at least like its offshoot projects like Liquid
Tension Experiment. One also can’t help but be reminded of guitarist Jimmy
Herring’s countless prog/fusion projects like Jazz is Dead, Project Z and
Endangered Species. But what GHWCK achieves here consistently that those
groups only touch on is a lyrical, melodic quality that while technically
superb isn’t bogged down in mathematics.

It’s worth noting as well that this album has more in common with metal than
it does with jazz, fusion, jam or even prog. But labeling music is usually
fruitless, and music this good is meant to be unclassifiable. Suffice it to
say, though, if you’re turned off by stuffy virtuoso playing, this album may
still strike a chord with you because of its soulfulness and charm.

While Chambers is the heavy hitter here, and guitarists Garsed and Helmerich
tear it up with both taste and technique, keyboardist Kinsey may be the
band’s most valuable player. Many of these projects come off cheesy because
of lame synth sounds, but Kinsey shines. His playing is flawless, and his
mixing of piano, Hammond organ and spacy, original synth sounds and effects
is refreshing.

The disc kicks off with "Colliding Chimps." A King Crimson-style guitar
churn quickly is replaced by a funky be-bop segment anchored by Chambers
tight playing. Kinsey’s Hammond washes build and build until the whole band
is locked into a hard rock riff. The tune ends with Chambers abusing his
snare drum with a controlled amount of abandon as the track fades out. Track
two, "," features a unique bass solo from Willis, a
scorching rock guitar lead and some spacy, fluid keyboards with gurgles and
beeps a la The Disco Biscuits.

"Swarming Goblets," the third song, is one of the record’s high points. A
heavy Dream Theater-like wah-wah guitar rhythm sets the tone for a song
equal parts thrash and swing. A tribal/space groove ensues until Chambers,
who furthers his claim as rock’s best drummer on this obscure album, begins
a deciptively difficult shuffle. Casting through the darkness like a
flickering light, piano washes and a guitar peek through. The darker
elements struggle against the new-found brightness until all stop on a major
chord, setting off a spacy keyboard solo. Chambers, who despite his
propensity for monster fills manages to keep it simple for most of the
album, does some showing off here, fluttering between the hi-hat and ride
cymbals while keeping the snare and bass beat and throwing in some tom-tom
and crash cymbal fills.

"Minx" may be even better than "Goblets." The track kicks off with a slow
drum and bass shuffle and a heavy guitar crunch. The rhythm guitarist
switches to a delicate harp-like sound on an acoustic and the other
guitarist lets out a soaring Eric Johnson-like solo. The lengthy solo, which
keeps climbing to new heights, may be the emotional high point of the album.

The best part of "I Want A Pine Cone" is a slow piano solo eerily backed by
a spacy synth wash. The song morphs into the last track, "A Thousand Days,"
the album’s lone segue. "Days" is easily the album’s most straightforward
track with a crying guitar lead and a hip-hop drum beat. The song fades out
but a moment of levity – yes, these guys are having fun – is hidden
here. Embedded in the eighth and final track are two goofy Primus-like
ditties that show the band blowing off some steam.

Yes, the group is full of masterful musicians likely to teach at Berklee
and, yes, the album and songs have goofy titles. And yes, prog geeks will
lap this stuff up. But if you don’t let that scare you off, which you
shouldn’t, Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch is a bizarre yet strangely
enjoyable place to spend some time.

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