Live: Volume 1, Rise Up – Entrain
Dolphin Safe Records 06
Carlos Santana would be proud. Entrain's newest release, Live: Volume
1 is a fine hybrid of world beat and rock — a strong document of a
young and energetic band searching to find their sound. Though the album was
recorded early last fall at various Massachusetts watering holes, Live:
1 seems ripe for summer picking, with percussion heavy songs and sunny
horn solos recalling warm days and bright afternoons. With a unique lineup
consisting of six musicians who jump between guitar, bass, sax, trombone,
drums, congas, and several other percussion weapons, Entrain tackles a
variety of sounds and styles-ranging for jazz-rock to calypso to Salsa,
often times within the same track.
Like Santana, Entrain creates music in
layers, using timbales, djembes, and bongos as cake and psychedelic
guitar lines and horn arrangements as frosting. Opening with the
percussion centered "Mo Drums", Live: 1 shows listeners from the
start that Entrain's rhythm section is what holds the group together. With
all six members on drums, "Mo Drums" has the communal spirit of a parking
lot drum circle as it gradually fades into the winding "River Run" — the
album's finest showcase of how Entrain can both swing and rock. With the
group's horn section taking center stage and lead singer and guitarist Brian
Alex delivering several solos, "River Run" gives each member of the sextet a
chance to shine, as they tackle salsa, rock, calypso, and a set of
Graceland-inspired lyrics. Like a Latin dance party, this album is
full of Spanish energy, which spices up every aspect of Entrain's music.
Cementing the group's Santana connection, Alex dots his lyrics with Spanish
words and phrases, blending the two languages as if they were segues between
Though Live: Volume 1 is primarily a series of danceable salsa
numbers, the album does take a few stabs at the traditional rock song.
"Anyway" is the album's most straightforward number, complete with a cowbell
beat and a Beatlesesque "Na na na na" chorus. On the rocking "Dancing in the
Light," Alex delivers several high pierced solos that give the song a
distinct Dead feel, only filtered through a Latin American lens. While the
album's more traditional moments are certainly well constructed, they seem
to serve as water breaks between dance parties, instead of full blown
attempts to create Latin rock songs.
Like many drum circles, Live: 1 often sounds repetitive. While the
album's excessive drum experiments will no doubt bring audiences to their
feat in concert, on disc they serve simply as tools to move the group
between styles and songs. Likewise, electric guitar and saxophone solos on
such tracks as "Cohiba" and "Shine On" seem interchangeable. Likewise, the
album's unifying theme of moving and dancing wears thin after a few spins.
Furthermore, the group seems to fall all too easily into the default drum
solo mode when their jams seem to lose direction, as evidenced on many of
the album's cuts.
Not that excessive drumming is always bad — the bouncy "Rise Up" manages to
fit a lengthy percussion jam into a well-structured song, before giving the
group's horn section a chance to show their instrumental chops. While the
group's songs may lack focus, they are almost always danceable and serve as
a perfect party soundtrack.
The album's final track is perhaps its most interesting. After ten
experiments that combine rock and various reggae, salsa, and Latin sounds,
the group delivers what at first sounds like a relatively straightforward
ska song, "Mexican Bus". The track unveils the punk-like energy that helped
move the group through their live album. It's this quick punch and fast
speed that allows the group to jump between so many styles and solos,
without seeming drawn out. As "Mexican Bus" fades into a Phishy and spacey
jam, Entrain reminds listeners that they are capable of being both
structured and spacey.
An enjoyable first live release, Live: Volume 1 lays the blueprint
from which the group will no doubt build future performances. Like a great
dance move, it is down and dirty, but at times messy and a bit
uncomfortable. Besides being a bit rough, Live: 1 is well worth a
listen, especially during the summer's hottest months.