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Reviews > CDs

Published: 2004/03/30
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag – Band of Blue, Bobby and the Pressure Droppers, J.C. Flyer, Gypsy Paradigm, Gypsy SchaefferAndrew Kasab, Mission Players, The Soundmen, Vinyl Soup, Wasabi

self-titled – Band of Blue
Semi-muscular guitar and thumping drums holds together the vaguely
gospel-influenced Band of Blue. The band tries their hands at various genres
(such as the light Latin swing of "Double Bob" which morphs into a kind of
country blues groove), but they never let the music runaway with itself,
which is nice, and – no matter what they try – it’s all sort of integrated
into their total sound. The group knows how to keep it concise, too, which
is a plus (most of the tracks hover in the three-and-a-half minute range),
though the impression is of songs that are much, much longer. And, since the
tunes actually are short, this is actually quite alright. Band of
Blue doesn’t exactly break down boundaries, but they don’t mindlessly repeat
riffs and approaches, either. Right now, they seem to be stuck in a
temporary early-stage purgatory before they figure out what they’re going to
do with themselves. Props for a cool album cover, too — trippy without
being tasteless. Jolly. Oblique Strategies sez: "Balance the consistency
principle with the inconsistency principle." More info…

Rundown and Rioting – Bobby and the Pressure Droppers
Borrowing their band name from a Toots and the Maytals song, this Detroit
outfit has a good go at making roots reggae despite being from an industrial
city in the middle of America. And, despite their handicap, they do an okay
job. Songs like "Flag Flying Children" are convincing, though other numbers
like "Roadtrip To Toledo" don’t entirely make it. Nonetheless, the whole
album suffers from amateurish production, dripping the vocals in reverb and
leaving the drums bone dry, and there are four ballads in a row on the
album’s second half (which is about three too many) despite John Greston’s
mightily restrained guitar playing, and Mark Johnson’s surprisingly tasteful
bass. Oblique Strategies sez: "Courage." More info…

Movin’ On – J.C. Flyer
J.C. Flyer’s Movin’ On is inoffensively soft country-rock fare filled
with unconvincingly hyperarchaic lyrics of the Old West and tales of outlaw
mentality and other such bullshit. You know the stuff — the title track
references "home fires" that are left burning, "Outlaws on the Run"
recreates a stage-coach robbery told from the perspective of a son who saw
his outlaw father hung, "Alone With The Wind" (which follows) is, um, a
sweet reminiscence of a father and child going fishing and stuff ("to say
that I didn’t love you would be a sin / because now I’m alone with the
wind") and kinda incongruous after the previous track… and, well, so it
goes. I suppose similar complaints could be leveled against, say, the
Grateful Dead if I tried. But I’m not going to. This is quaintly nostalgic.
American Beauty wasn’t. Flyer gets fine support from extended-Dead
family members Barry Sless, Rob Barraco, and others, but I’ve had enough
gypsy women ("Towards The Sun"), horseback riding ("Thousand Trails"), and,
um, The Wind ("Alone With The Wind") to last me a few lifetimes. Oblique
Strategies sez: "(Organic) machinery." More
info…

Canciones, Composici, y improvisaci musics – Gypsy
Paradigm
So, somebody handed this to me in the lobby before the Jammys, or somewhere,
and I kinda mumbled "thanks," shoved it in my back pocket, and sat on it all
night, so when I got it home the case was all mangled. But the CD seemed to
be intact, so I thought I owed it to them to listen. This is a homemade
disc in every way — the cover is a handdrawn/Xeroxed illustration of a
gypsy (?) wagon with handdrums falling out the back, the back is also
Xeroxed (half-typed/half-handwritten) with an actual note in blue ink (in
the same handwriting) affixed to the top ("please copy & distribute to kind
folks everywhere!"). The music on the disc – recorded at various venues in
Oklahoma – completely befits the packaging. The recording quality of the
mostly live material is suitably subpar, but somehow endearing given the
presentation. The jams – full on psychedelia with a touch of the latter-day
groove – aren’t too objectively enthralling, but they really sound great
when pumped through the tin-can-and-wire technology the band apparently used
to make this disc (proving, perhaps, that the whole reason the jamband scene
rose to prominence in the first place is ‘cause the music sounded good on
the reigning cheap technology the day, cassette tapes… how’s that for punk
rock/DIY?) I dunno if I’d like this if it were polished and in a nice
package, but I’m digging it right now. Oblique Strategies sez: "Use an old
idea." More info…

self-titled – Gypsy Schaeffer
Sorry guys, my ears are shot right now. It’s a gorgeous day and I’ve been
listening to nothing but hippie funk for the past three hours, so
anything but that would be an oasis… and, well, Gypsy Schaeffer’s
self-titled debut is just that oasis. Hey, they’re straight-ahead jazz
played earnestly and convincingly, which is a rarity these days. There are
no crazy beats, no ridiculous time signatures, no DJs thwacking and
scratching along, no hep covers… just an alto/trombone/bass/drums quintet
from Boston playing mild-mannered charts that find their life in their
melodies and plain ol’ musical camaraderie and communication. Good for them.
I dunno if this is great music or not, but it’s certainly treating me very
well under this set of conditions. Oblique Strategies sez: "Make a blank
valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame." Moire info…

Crossing – Andrew Kasab
I have to admit, I’m totally partial to homemade releases, and Andrew
Kasab’s Crossing is so homemade that it makes my computer hum and
vibrate with a strange buzz. The music itself is earnest singer-songwriter
strumming with a little pit of post-Dave Matthews rhythmic kick (not to
mention hyper-sensitivity) evident in Kasab’s playing, which frequently
detours off into deft fills. In places ("Regret"), Kasab sounds like he’s
fronting a band that’s not actually there, and one can imagine the band
swinging into a groove behind him, all busy basslines and semi-funky snares.
The music, though, is better off without a band, leaving some amount to be
imagined (which is more than can be said for most dudes with acoustic
guitars). Oblique Strategies sez: "Consider different fading systems." More info…

Live and Livin’ It – Mission Players
The Mission Players – all seven of ‘em (which includes two guitarists, a
keyboardist, a percussionist, and a sax player, plus rhythm section – are
all fine musicians. For such a large ensemble, they manage to hold together
fairly well without ever sounding too crowded. But, unfortunately (as much
of an achievement as that is), they don’t sound too interesting, either.
Their music is a straight-ahead groove/fusion that shows little evidence of
personality, nor much of an inclination to push at the boundaries of music
as a means of a personal expression. The musicians lose themselves in, give
or take, an album length groove, touched with solos, breakdowns, and
occasional quasi-soulful vocals. It’s something interesting for all the
members to serve, something larger than them as individuals, and certainly a
gateway for them as players, but not something that’s necessarily
interesting to listen to at home (live, however, might well be another
story). Oblique Strategies sez: "Ask people to work against their better
judgment." More info…

Pleasure In The Mess – The Soundmen
The Soundmen are a perfectly serviceable quintet, whose album – Pleasure
In The Mess – is filled with stop-time funk, dense arrangements,
distorted guitar wrapping around chunky Rhodes chording, some lite sax
soloing, and… well, sailor, I think you know the drill. It’s nice. Lots of
little semi-composed flourishes that tie all the different sections and
solos together and whatnot, and successfully make the whole thing a unified
listening experience. Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily a fully pleasurable
listening experience. The Soundmen’s sound is still a bit one-dimensional,
falling to groove where there should be quiet, using distortion and effects
where there should be emotion. Still, it’s all good fun, and songs like
"Don’t Diss My Homies" are nice enough, even if there’s just too much
goddamn wah-wah pedal. Oblique Strategies sez: "Use an unacceptable color."
More info…

Chasing Yesterday :- Vinyl Soup
Vinyl Soup’s Chasing Yesterday is filled wall-to-wall with playful
wah-driven hippie funk. It’s charming, fun music that’s probably a whole of
fun to make, and a whole lot of fun to listen to if you happen to wander
into a bar and see them playing on a Saturday night. For some reason,
though, I can’t imagine accidentally seeing them. Maybe it’s a regional
thing, or maybe I just go to the wrong bars up here, but Vinyl Soup’s music
feels very nostalgic to me, reminiscent of a simpler time — and not because
the music is retro in its inclination, but maybe just because it’s entirely
straight-forward. There’s no irony, and certainly no posing. Their inclusive
in the sense that there’s nothing foreboding nor off-putting about their
music (the quality that first attracted me to jambands back in high school),
but – at the same time – it’s also sort of a turn-off. There’s nothing
particularly challenging about this music, either, nothing to sink one’s
teeth into. But it’s fun. "Cold Jaded Jane" sounds like Phish’s "Dog Stole
Things," "Mr. Jello" is the kind of nonsensical whimsy that my ex-housemates
used to rag on but so what? If enough people believe in it, whimsy is
fucking awesome. Perhaps Vinyl Soup will achieve critical mass someday.
Oblique Strategies sez: "Reverse." More
info…

Greetings – Wasabi
Unfortunately, Wasabi isn’t the same Wasabi as the early ’90s jamband
supergroup of the same name (which featured three-fourths of the Spin
Doctors, John Popper, Warren Haynes, and others). Instead, they’re a fairly
earnest quartet from Colorado, I do believe. Their music is pleasant, but – like so many – lacks personality, or at least the kind of musical invention
that would separate their tunes from most other jambands. They’re certainly
competent enough, but they haven’t quite why they’re making music yet (at
least, that’s my impression). Still, there are nice moments on here, such as
the twinkling Rhodes solo on the otherwise staid "Growin’," which seems to
want to build towards a fantastic climax, but has a hard time breaking free
from the mellow groove. Nonetheless, they’re making music without artifice
or smarmy/snobby pretention, and that’s worth a brownie patch (or maybe just
a pot brownie). Oblique Strategies sez: "Use ‘unqualified’ people." More info…

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