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Published: 2004/08/27
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag – Alientar, Famous Last Words, Jam Camp, The Lonesome Deliveryman, Named By Strangers, Rural Free Delivery, Slipstream, The Steepwater Band, Scott Varney

Holding the Bug: August 2004
Alientar – Alientar
There’s something old-fashioned about Alientar — specifically, they sound like The Pink Floyd, that real, true Floyd when they still had a definite article attached to their name and Syd Barrett gobbled pills and sang of the gnomes and teacups and shit that spun about beneath the menacing rainbows of guitars. Alientar don’t carry themselves with quite the same weight as The Floyd, but – with the right amount of smoke machines and flashing lights and loud enough drums – one can imagine the songs on their self-titled debut turning into propulsively primal psychedelic screamers filled with fat guitar and distorted organs, and proud drums. The recording quality on this disc is a wee muffled, and – as a result – the drums are buried and the guitars are a little too up front. On the other hand, in places, that sure does play right into their strengths. The infectious verse of "Good Luck" sounds like a heaping slab of ’60s garage rock as delivered laconically by Cracker’s David Lowery (then they start playing reggae and it’s obvious they’re a buncha hippie punks after all) (and if that didn’t clue you in, the surprisingly cool 5 minute jam probably would’ve). Dreamy jam-rock for the kids. Alientar, we salute you. Oblique Strategies sez: "Distorting time." More info…
Dollar Empire – Contact
If Contact didn’t have so many reference points in bands like The New Deal and The Disco Biscuits and Particle, their Dollar Empire would be a lot more notable than it is. As it stands, the Toronto quintet’s music is still plenty exciting (and if I were a jamband fan in Toronto, I’d be plenty excited). The ten tracks of the band’s nearly hour-long disc flow and groove in and out of each other, and remain psychedelic and exploratory throughout. The band’s use of effects is a little heavy, bordering on the Ozric Tentacles’ territory (though, to be fair, Contact never tries to pretend its guitars are actually space-age keyboards by slathering them into compressors and the like) Nah, it’s just heavily delayed guitar for Contact. The rhythms are uptempo and exciting, and the melodies are just the right kind of demented. ‘Accelerate’ and ‘Stitchface’ finds their own distinct grooves — though, like most Contact jams, sounds little like the house music it purports to mimic. That’s cool. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Breathe more deeply.’ More info…

Famous Last Words – Famous Last Words
In the post-Jerry world, the Bay Area’s Famous Last Words offers music in a rapidly disappearing style: the rock band. Led by guitarist/songwriter Jeff Zittrain and bassist Kate Burkhart, Famous Last Words still believe that the secrets to existence can still be found in a really good change between the bridge and the chorus. And maybe they can be. Zittrain’s songwriting occasionally falls prey to a cheesy line ("Walk across the waves / Into your soul" – "Lullaby"), but he’s a got a good head. On "Sloe Hank," he tries out Dylan’s "Visions of Johanna" catalogue-of-observations trick to great (relative) success (albeit with far less evocative language). In their refusal to be anything but a band, there is a great nobility to Famous Last Words’ purpose, though that grace doesn’t always translate to the listening experience. With more attention to lyrical detail (making sure each line is expressive and unique) and a more creative production, Famous Last Words could create a real winner. Oblique Strategies sez: "Go slowly all the way round the outside." More info…

Black Hills Jam – Jam Camp
Jam Camp? Okay. Jam Camp. Black Hills Jam, their second full-length in 15 years, is a dense hour of improvisations — some of it quite good, some of it quite meandering, some of it totally numbing. The band hangs much of their music atop rolling grooves, which gets tiring pretty quickly. Though they move into a lot of spaces, their sound wears thin, mostly due to Steven Munger’s saxophone. It’s not Munger’s fault so much as his instrument’s. It’s hard for a sax to fade into the background and merely provide texture. When Munger does, it’s all the more noticeable. Guitarists David Broyles and Michael Smith dogfight subtly and carefully, stretching their conversations across several long expanses, including the 15-minute title cut and the equally long ‘Swamp Gas and Moonshine.’ It’s an overwhelming listen, and though there are rewarding moments, it’s hard to wade through without much distinct thought being put into the jams’ editing and presentation. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Do nothing for as long as possible.’ More info…
Terrible Taco Stand Revival – The Lonesome Deliverymen
With a flamenco flourish, the Lonesome Deliverymen launch into "Got ‘Em Got ‘Em Good," the first of their 40 minute debut. Utilizing the unlikely combination of Fender Rhodes and accordion, the band’s sound is equal parts macabre and fusion-like. Unfortunately, their songwriting is equally confused, and numbers like "Desk Lamp Serenade" and "Quilt Sails" languish in a droning tedium. Dave Terdin’s accordion wants to slow things down while Bryan Gibber’s Rhodes wants to speed things up. Bright spots include the wry "Laundry Day Polka," which combines fleet-footed free association with a wild accordion groove, and "Lament for Water," a solo piano ballad by Gibber. The rhythm section is spry, and James Harold’s guitar is virtually invisible (though clearly provides the shape of several of the longer numbers). Oblique Strategies sez: "Change instrument roles." More info…
Gone – Named By Strangers
There are assloads of jambands out there these days (trust me), and most of ‘em probably at least got to the point where there were 20 fans they didn’t know and everything seemed exciting and they might choose to put their heads down and make a charge at the world. On the way, they’d probably have a good winter or two playing every month at a local bar and everybody they knew would come and they’d sing (and sing along) with all the meaning rapidly accumulating around them. When not playing, the band would hang out and write songs and drink beer and be all utopian and dreamy-eyed. Named By Strangers right now seem to be in mid-charge. Their music is Vermont folk, a little bleaker than Strangefolk, but the same vague musical references to bluegrass and rock, and maybe even a hint of No Depression’s forlorn twang. Oblique Strategies sez: "Reverse." More info…

Come On Home – Rural Free Delivery
Rural Free Delivery execute the genre hop fairly well. When they launch into a Paul Simon-like groove on "Went to the Mountain," complete with diamond guitar patterns and steel drum, they sound like a band who sounds like that, playing some variation on that sound in every song. ‘In the Middle of the Night,’ which follows, is barrelhouse ragtime pop that still sounds like a jamband, but sounds like one which hangs out in that corner of the world. Except for a few clunkers – ‘Blue’ is convincing jam-pap – the disc is a pleasure to work through, packed with surprises and little stylistic maneuvers that keep the whole affair interesting. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Use an old idea.’ More info…
Waterbound – Slipstream
Slipstream are a for-real, contemporary bluegrass band, committed to carrying on songs learned from other musicians, as well as making a few modest contributions of their own to the acoustic songbook. The band tackles a pair of Norman Blake tunes, a John Fogerty number, a bunch of traditions, and an unrecorded Bill Monroe original picked up at a jam session. Mandolinist Rich Zimmerman, guitarist Brad Murphey, and bassist Paul Waitinas are all tastefully proficient players. Their picking tends towards the refined chamber side of bluegrass, but their musical instincts are top-of-the-line, their instruments blending with warmth. Due to the genial nature of their sound, the impact of the music ends up as a little liter than it probably deserves (or was intended). Nonetheless, a fine act to watch. Oblique Strategies sez: "What are you really thinking about just now?" More info…

Dharmakaya – The Steepwater Band
Dharmakaya, the second release from the midwestern Steepwater Band, is slickly produced and nicely packaged. Its contents contain the kind of bombastic blues-rock that one would expect to find being played by guys whose Marshall stacks are entirely too big for the clubs they’re playing. I have no idea if this describes The Steepwater Band accurately, but their songs ‘Back to the Bottle,’ ‘Black Cats Path,’ and ‘Waiting On The Devil’ sound pretty much exactly as they sound, resembling more the ‘authentic’ blues band Blues Hammer in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World than the progressive, interesting experimentation by the likes of the Allman Brothers Band (or even Lynyrd Skynyrd). Still, they sound pretty dang sure of themselves, and that counts for a lot in this world. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Into the impossible.’ More info…
The Child’s Eye – Scott Varney
There’s something in the water in Virginia that produces this sound — the common element that ties together Dave Matthews, Agents of Good Roots, Jason Mraz, and about a dozen other hippie-folk bands down in that most mid-Atlantic of the mid-Atlantic region. Songwriter Scott Varney falls squarely into this late 20th century tradition, albeit with a gimmick all his own: Varney’s a solo bassist. Like Keller Williams, he specializes in the one-man band, his bass expressively carrying the songs. On The Child’s Eye, he uses a variety of tricks to keep the sound from becoming too monochromatic: heavy effects, layered vocal arrangements, and light hand percussion. The songs themselves are a little belabored: easy-going sensitive-dude contemporary folk for the collegiate set. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, it’s probably up your alley, man. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame.’ More info…

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