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Published: 2004/04/27
by Mike Greenhaus

Mercury – Thompson D’earth


Thompson D'earth's Mercury sounds a lot like a Dave Matthews Band record. Combining jazz fusion, world beat percussion, and organic jams, Dawn Thompson and John D’Earth orchestrate an earthy suite of songs, tied together by a series of sweet vocal hooks. In fact, Dave Matthews himself even stops by on a cover of Stewart Copeland’s "Darkness," lending his trademark vocal abilities to help round out the track’s harmonies. But the real reason Mercury recalls Dave Matthews Band is that Carter Beauford gives the album its instrumental backbone.

Leading much of Mercury with his busy drumming, Beauford helps tie Thompson D’earth’s latest release to the dark, carefully composed orchestrations that color Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets. Furthering Thompson D’earth’s Friendster-style connection to Dave Matthews, John D’earth also happens to be the man responsible for the orchestration of Before These Crowded Streets, helping to layer that disc with dense, African-influenced orchestration. Performing a similar feat on Mercury, D’earth uses two methods to chart his newest music.

Employing a four- piece string section to emphasize a series of tracks and utilizing a choir on the opening "Moment by Moment," D'earth connects Mercury to the Kronos Quartet-enhanced tracks on Matthews’ third studio album. Using Beauford as his instrumental backbone, D’earth also arranges his jazz band like a classical unit, carefully charting solos and time-changes. With D’earth tackling Mercury’s horn and string arrangements, Thompson takes the reins with the album’s lead vocals, giving the disc much of its individual character.

Opening with a soft, pronounced beat from Beauford, Mercury kicks off with "Moment by Moment." Spotlighting Thompson's high-pitched, ethereal voice, the track is a fitting introduction to Mercury, blueprinting the album's pattern of horn solos, vocal chants, and bubbling rhythms. Playing both trumpet and flugelhorn, D'earth draws from a variety of jazz influences, setting big-band solos in modern, earthy jams. Helping to flesh out Mercury's dark textures, Thompson D'earth employ a wide range of guest musicians, some of which stop by for a track or two, others which form the duo's studio band. Growing out of Miller's, a former Dave Matthews Band haunt, Thompson D'earth draw from a similar cross-pollination while putting together their accomplished band. Bruce Hornsby and MODEREKO sideman Bobby Read joins in on saxophone, while locals Pete Spaar, Howard Curtis, and Robert Jospe play upright bass and percussion. Matthews' vocal harmonies on the powerful "Darkness" also lends some underground credibility to the stadium-rocker, showcasing the singer's unique voice in a natural, homey context.

Despite any big name draws, Mercury is written around Thompson D'earth's songs. A series of introspective, poignant numbers, Mercury is "thinking music." Mostly written by Thompson, Mercury also has a dreamlike quality, with references to stars, seas, and subtle harmonies throughout. Linked to jazz more than jam, Mercury doesn’t really groove. Instead, numbers like "Parallel Lines" and "Call Back the Time" waltz through horn solos and pretty piano ballads. Sure, there are moments of spontaneity, such as the group compositions "Momentary Band Jam" and "Free Miss X," but Mercury finds its best moments in its carefully woven medley of instruments.

As a lyricist, Thompson's words help give structure to Mercury's sound. In harmony, Thompson sings, "Harmony will free a soul's desire/music is the key that we require/captive in a dungeon of a mind/sing awhile — energy unwind." Listening to Mercury after a long day, these words seem particularly poignant. In fact, they seem to define this excellent, relaxing disc.

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