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Published: 2003/09/28
by Chip Schramm

5 Alive! – Carbon Leaf

Constant Ivy Music

5 Alive! is the double-live offering from Carbon Leaf, a quintet
hailing from Virginia. The band features Terry Clark and Carter Gravatt on
guitar, Scott Milstead on drums, Jordan Medas on bass, and front man Barry
Privett. Privett also gets songwriting credits for all originals on the
album and plays tin whistle frequently throughout. Carbon Leaf's sound is
best described as a blend of vocal-driven pop, combined with British and
American folk influences. Privett's singing and lyrics are the dominant
elements on the album, which otherwise includes a few special guests and
cover songs as well.

The most striking shortcoming of the album is the lack of diversity that the
band displays across the two disc set. Usually a double-live album gives a
band the chance to show off a wide range of influences and aspirations. In
the case of 5 Alive!, so many of the songs sound similar that they
could have cut the track list by half and turned out a single CD with the
same effect. Privett's vocals and songwriting aren't genuinely bad,
but his voice lacks range, his delivery is rather difficult to understand in
some places, and the lyrics are less than profound on average. In the case
of the "Crazy Train" cover, the interpretation is so weak that it would hurt
the band's credibility in the eyes of any classic rock fan.

Early on in the album, the band makes vocal reference to the Beach Boys
classic "Sloop John B" as part of the introduction to the song "Home." It's
hard to tell what the reason is for the brief reference, but it seems a bit
out of place. Privett plays his tin whistle over the top of the lead lines,
drawing comparison to Rusted Root, and the vocal chorus at the end is full
of "aaah"s from the band. "Big Strong Man" is a traditional sailors'
drinking song that sounds like it probably originated from the British Navy.
Carbon Leaf does rave it up at bit to put their unique mark on the

The live album does have a few technical flaws. Special guest Carlos Chafin
plays a long accordion solo on "Blue Ridge Laughing," but his levels are so
low in the mix that it sounds like a bad audience tape. When Brad Thomas
from Bluestring is introduced before "Torn to Tattered" you can hear the
voices of young girls screaming prominently in the background. Allusions to
a college sorority party surrounding the band seem somewhat humorous, but
probably offer more than a hint about the type of fans that attend Carbon
Leaf concerts in Virginia.

The album is not totally without highlights. The spacy interlude that
serves as an intro to "American Tale" is one of the more interesting parts
of the album. The jam at the end of "Maybe Today" also shows a glimmer of
potential, but doesn't reappear anywhere else on the album. On "Follow The
Lady," Medas' long bass segment makes one wonder how much the actual
musicians in the band are being held back by their leader. While each has a
moment to shine somewhere on the album, the band never seems comfortable
improvising between the lyrics and chorus or extending most of the songs or
collaborative jams. It wouldn't be fair to criticize a studio album in this
way, but being a live album, this just doesn't make me want to go see Carbon
Leaf play.

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