In Search of… – Ten Ton Chicken
Harmonized Records 012
Sometime around the millennium, the Other Ones minted their sound. Unlike
the Grateful Dead's deep, countrified psychedelia or The Dead's more somber
space explorations, The Other Ones built their jams around Bruce Hornsby's
jazz-pop keyboards, texturing their songs with Steve Kimock's solos and Dave
Ellis's saxophone. An intriguing mix of Grateful Dead gems and The Range's
pop standards, The Other Ones weren't stationary enough to change around
their cemented sound — yet their tours hinted of an interesting second
marriage for the two lonely styles.
Taking a cue from their California neighbors, Ten Ton Chicken combine Dead
delicacies like jazz, funk, rock, and sprinkles of psychedelia. In Search
OfS is an up tempo medley Age of Aquarius sounds and structures, driven
by Greg Sankovich's piano and Gary Morrell's Steve Kimock-inspired guitar.
Despite the negative stigma that often accompanies the Other Others, Ten Ton
Chicken's sophomore release is often quite exciting, as the quintet channel
their influences into a slim and flexible set of ten songs. At times, it
hints of what the Other Ones' could have sounded like if they were more
adventurous. Yet, unfortunately, it also struggles to find a unique voice.
Without question, In Search Of…'s most original number is
"skLorilla." A manic, ska-inspired song, "skLorilla" channels Ten Ton
Chicken's influences in an entirely original way. Jamison Smeltz's quick
horn solos border on both reggae and polka, while Sankovich's piano and
Morrell's guitar bursts give the track an Other Ones underbelly. It's
quirky, original music that best exemplifies how a group can twist and turn
their influences into a totally original shape and sound. By contrast, the
pretty but lethargic "Sometimes" comes a bit too close to a Hornsby song for
comfort, while "Jungle Cat" gets tangled in jazz-funk trappings. Similarly,
the wind down of Horscht" contains unconscious teases of the Other Ones'
"China Cat Sunflower," an anchor tying down the song's more adventurous
As songwriters, Ten Ton Chicken are quite quirky. With airtight
harmonies and earthily cartoonish themes, one might automatically dismiss
their vocals. But the quintet knows how to space their lyrical passages
around funky jams, using their words as a sixth instruments. On "Mama's
Cork," the group spews out nonsensical stories that are baked perfectly into
the group's musical pie, giving the song a feel akin to Phish's "Reba."
While the most frequent complaint about Other Ones is the absence of a
prominent lead guitar player, Marshall fills that role quite nicely, dueling
with the group's words.
Lengthwise, Ten Ton Chicken reins in their tendencies to meander. Most of
the album's cuts come in at around five minutes, compacting an arsenal of
solos and saxophone sounds into a short time span of time. As on the Other
Ones' live disc Only the Strange Remain, Ten Ton Chicken explodes in
quick bursts of energy before sedating their sound with piano and
saxophones. On tracks like "M.U.T" and "Shovel," this tactic works
particularly well. The album's lengthiest track "Twenty Times" is also, not
coincidentally, their most exploratory, letting Morell dip a bit deeper into
spacey waters. His work is nothing new, but like the album in general, it's
an engaging addition to a patented sound.
These days, it seems like every city has a jamband. Unfortunately, most of
them play around with the same set of sounds and structures, causing the
genre to become somewhat stagnant. In certain ways, Ten Ton Chicken
perpetuate this trend, aligning themselves with certain chord progressions
and textures. But, when Ten Ton Chicken turn away from California jam-band
cliches, as "skLorilla" shows, the band is capable of moving away from
their Other Ones sound and launching their own strange trip. Hopefully their
next album will be their true maiden voyage.