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Published: 2003/06/26
by Chris Gardner

self-titled – Bluestring

Flying Frog Records 006

Had I found Bluestring's
eponymous new release at the right time in my life, I would have worn it
out. The disc opens with a deceiving bit of radio static before settling
into "Pick Me Up," which has all the trappings of a radio hit save one:
brevity. It is the kind of song you sing, whether you want to or not. The
chorus rolls in after the off-kilter verse with a relatively rare (for this
album) electric guitar adding just the right jolt under Brad Thomas' booming
saxophone. Somewhere midway through the six-minute span, all instrumentation
falls away except a muffled drum beat under the effected vocals. The
requisite moment of silence follows — you know, the one that shows you just
how damn cool the chorus is when it bursts back in. It is a great moment
made greater still by the moody, radio-unfriendly jam that follows the
guitar solo. The rhythm section and organ underpeg Thomas' saxophone as it
builds into the bridge, now punctuated by a group shout that sounds like a
Viking battle cry. Chuck Thomas gets loose on the bass before things
coalesce into one last run through the chorus. It's a brilliant bit of
production; every wrinkle matters; every inclusion improves the song. The
result is commercial without being radio-ready. It is, rather, the kind of
music you wish you were hearing on the radio, and it's what Bluestring does

It's a trick equaled if not improved upon with "Second Wind," which again
capitalizes on Thomas' saxophone, this time augmented with trumpet and
trombone. Brad's sax is the band's strongest instrumental voice, and he
plays authoritatively. Guest musicians riddle the disc (electric guitar and
organ most frequently), but the band's acoustic guitar, drums, bass, and
percussion line-up is more than enough to get the job done more often than
not. Not every track measures up, but there are no throw-aways either.
Chuck lays the pulse for the murky "Za Zoo Impromptu," one of the disc's two
instrumentals, just as he does for "River Ridge," a lyrically simple tune
that captures the crestless ripple of water over river stones. With only one
true solo voice, Chuck has space to fill and generally wanders out of the
pocket, playing melodically and leaving the drummers to pin down the rhythm,
which they do handily. Bluestring manages space well. The music is always
full and very rarely superfluous.

Bluestring isn't out to simply make records; they are out to sell them. That
seems a silly distinction in the music business where, in the end, everyone
wants to sell records, but you get the sense that Bluestring is giving the
record-buying world what it wants rather than indulging their own caprice.
The vocals and lyrics are a focus rather than an afterthought, but the
instrumentation never pays the price. Whether you have turned against the
Dave Matthews Band (as so many have) or not, you may remember a time when
you were
excited to hear it on the radio. They brought musicianship to the air-waves
again. They played unashamedly commercial music that mattered. Bluestring
thankfully didn't cop the sound, but they learned the lesson.

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