Wormwood – moe.
Fatboy/iMusic/Artist Direct 01095-2
With apologies to their song "32 Things" ...right now, when I think about
moe., I think about Joe, then I think about moe…
The Joe I'm referring to is guitarist/singer/songwriter Joe Bonamassa.
Recently, I saw him open for B.B. King.
The reason I bring his name up is that Bonamassa loves to play the hell
out of the guitar. Understandably, he was showy in front of a crowd that was
there to see the King of the Blues. But what made his approach work was his
ability to use transitions that made sense within each song without losing
the power of the number or interrupt the flow of the groove.
As I listened to moe.'s latest, Wormwood, that's what I thought about – the bandmembers' ability to do that same exact thing as Bonamassa. Sure, one
could argue that transitions, segues, time changes are a core ingredient to
the jamband musical ethic. And many acts provide that with skill and
precision, but few do it in such a way that each movement sounds as if it's
the next logical step forward while retaining the melodic sensibility of a
Artists may take the audience for a musical journey in concert, but
recording an album in the studio forces them to travel along a different
path, one that takes inspiration and whittles it down into a more concise
series of notes. It seems that everyone within the jamband genre has
struggled with balancing the differences between live versus studio, even
Phish and Widespread Panic. moe. comfortably came to terms with that dilemma
several albums ago.
Evidence of the band's ability to grasp the core of a song can be derived
from early setlists that included material by R.E.M., Steely Dan, Frank
Zappa, Joe Jackson and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Obviously, moe. used those
influences as a framework for expanded jams, but such listening experiences
have crept into their subconscious and kept the material grounded and solid.
The studio recordings do not sound like jams that were met by a trusty
Songs like "Bullet" or "Okayalright" make sense as
tightly-constructed numbers that can stand on their own as, dare I say,
numbers that could be heard on the radio. If the tune does grow in length,
it's only because the band members have full control and understanding of
source as well as a curiosity to see what a little experimentation thrown
into the mix will do.
"Crab Eyes," which can also be heard on the first installment of the
"Warts and All" live concert series, takes what seems like a Zappaesque
arrangement with prominent vibes and swiftly turns into a reggae number,
weaves styles together in a manner that blurs Jamaican groove, progressive
complexity and suburban America riffage. It's like a magician flicking his
hand and turning that two of clubs he was holding into a 10 of hearts.
It seems that with each passing album, the members of moe. decide to take
a new approach to recording. Wormwood is no different. The album's
tracks were recorded live, then tweaked in the studio with additional jams,
edits and overdubs. There are enough additions done to the material to make
it seem more than a good soundboard recording, yet it does have the
feel of live show. The opening track, "Not Coming Down," speeds along as a
mighty crowdpleaser, while a closer listening reveals the layers of
background vocals and effects added to give it a fuller sound.
Besides, the recording method, the desire to link each track to the next,
gives the impression that the album is the first of the band's normally
two-set concerts. Instrumental segues link the material in ways that
underscore guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Al Schnier's interest in
electronics and its growing incorporation within the band's sound. At times,
the soundscapes offer brief pauses from the songs or they develop musical
ideas previously heard into new shapes (such as "Bend Sinister").
Sharp songwriting coupled with a willingness to not rest on past
achievements is how moe. constructed an aural delight this time around.