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Published: 2003/10/29
by Chip Schramm

Dojo – The Ordinary Way


Dojo is the third release from the Washington, DC-area
band The Ordinary Way. While the name of the band
seems rather mundane, the music contained on the album
is anything but. The Ordinary Way is a seven-piece
ensemble, consisting of Gordon Sterling on lead vocals
and lead guitar, Fabienne Gustave on vocals, Chris
Stringfellow on bass, Austin Mendenhall on guitars and
mandolin, Jesse Hooper on keys, and Robin Boldt and
Ryan Leonardo on percussion. The lineup provides a
rich and textured sound throughout the album and
allows the band to pursue a diverse body of work. In
fact, the wide array of musical styles on Dojo is
almost a hindrance more than a help. The band spreads
itself a little thin with some of the free-form
wordplay at points, but they are to be commended for
taking risks and going out of their way to create
original music.

One of the strengths of the band is clearly Sterling's
vocals. Strong and resonant, his voice is
surprisingly reminiscent of John Popper's. Sterling
establishes himself on "Wake To The Sun," the
opening track, and "The Promise." Both of those
show his vocals at their peak. The album goes in many
different directions, which is somewhat disappointing,
because it seems like they aren't taking full
advantage of Sterling's pipes. Sadly, Gustave's
vocals don't add much to the album. It's hard to say
whether the phrasing is what takes away from the
effect (many of her vocals are either sung at the
exact same time as Sterling's or else repeating lines
he has already sung) or if it's her vocal range that
just doesn't seem to suit the style of the band. I
just couldn't get comfortable listening to her
singing, so it might be a personal problem on the
reviewer's end.

There are three instrumentals on the album. One of
which, "Anude" is a guitar-driven song that
features some rather nimble acoustic picking. "The
Journey Home" is a bright and lively tune that
features Hooper prominently on piano."Come Alive"
is a long reggae tune with more expressive keyboard
work from Hooper and several long passages with
extended jamming from all the band members. It's not
hard to see how this studio work would translate into
a live performance. The overall sound and mix of the
album is crisp and clean, much to the credit of Scott
Harlan who recorded, mixed, and mastered it. Given
the large number of musicians involved, this was
surely no small task.

The last third of the album is a bit experimental in
nature. There are instrumental breakdowns and some
spacey parts in all of the songs, but The Ordinary Way
really gets outside of the box from "In This
Life" on. The material seems more like spoken-word
poetry with musical accompaniment than actual songs.
The effect is reminiscent of the Digable Planets or
perhaps Liquid Soul, although The Ordinary Way
definitely burns their own original brand into it.
Overall, Dojo is an interesting, if not spectacular
album from a band that is clearly full of original
ideas and not afraid to take risks applying them.

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