Perseverance – Woodenhead
Free Electric Sound 4003
Perseverance is a fitting title for the latest album from a band that
been around for over 28 years, eking out a living in the crowded and
talented New Orleans music scene. Woodenhead formed when guitarist Jimmy
Robinson and cellist Danny Cassin met at Loyola University’s music
department in 1975. Despite both receiving classical instruction on their
respective instruments, they shared a love for a few more popular bands: the
Beatles, Hendrix, the Byrds, and Cream, to name but a few. However, it is
their more progressive and fusion influences – Frank Zappa, Yes, and the
Dregs – that jump out from Perseverance, Woodenhead’s sixth release.
live in New Orleans, the album features the band’s latest lineup: Robinson
on guitar, Fran Cominsky on keys, bassist Paul Clement, and drummer Mark
The record’s opener, "Big G," jumps out of the gate with a vague sea
shanty-like introduction before heading into a Celtic-flavored melody. The
playing is always in motion, bouncing from composed section to composed
section, not allowing the players to dally with extraneous improvisation.
Robinson’s guitar and Cominsky’s piano flirt heavily with each other,
sending sideways glances back and forth as they dance around each other.
"Bonewars" comes next, and is the first song to feature Mark Mullins, Brian
O’Neil, and Rick Trolsen: the Trombones From Hell. The horns add a deeper
dimension to the sound while Clement’s bass playing is driving and mixes
well with a few well-placed organ phrases. The song sounds very Zappa-esque
to me: maybe it is the vibraphone-like sound of the keyboards or the rapid
fire pace of the guitar.
"Drop Dead" sounds like a song in the repertoire of many a contemporary
jamband. You know the one, the song where the band wants to show listeners
its technical chops. Unfortunately, this track falls a little flat: not
enough construction of these potentially striking passages, more than too
much movement between them. Nothing really has much of a chance to develop.
I could go on and on describing this album, but so many of the songs are
similar to each other that by now you have an idea what Perseverance
about. One exceptional standout is "Little Blue," which is dark and
different from the rest of the progressive rock- and jazz-tinged record. A
hypnotic introduction shifts into Robinson’s frantic shredding as he builds
a melody. Halfway through a bit of levity enters, and a trippy organ solo
serves as a welcoming – though brief – distraction.
Despite Woodenhead’s obvious musical proficiency, Perseverance is
somewhat of a dull album. There is not much to distinguish most of the songs
from each other except the presence or absence of the Trombones From Hell,
and it the songs that feature them that have received the most play on my
morning or afternoon commute. If you’re a diehard fan of Yes, King Crimson,
Frank Zappa, or the Mahavishnu Orchestra, than this album would definitely
be worth your while. Don’t expect Woodenhead to sound exactly like any of
their influences, but you’ll definitely hear aspects of many of them.