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Published: 2005/02/04
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding the Bag – Barky, Guy Malone, Jervis Jort, Mood Cultivation Project, Revision, Roadside Zoo, The Savoy Truffle, Spindrift, Spiral Intuition, Spunhuny

A Study in Rocking – Barky
Is it rocking? Sometimes. Is it rock? Well, sometimes, not all the time. Fusion, sure, but names are silly. Talented? Yes. Barky is a three-piece from Manhattan, whose instrumentals (written by guitarist Scott Barkan) twist around each other with elastic propulsion. Barky’s song titles – which include "I, Gigantic" and "Coney Island Debtor’s Prison" – are more expressive than the band’s sound, however, which tends towards an electric guitar-driven sameness after a few numbers. Still, Barkan – along with bassist Michael Lavalle and drummer Brook Martinez – demonstrate a healthy sense of dynamics as they move through the numbers, equally as able to manage an ethereal ballad like the album-closing "Massive" as they are a twisted melodic spiral, such as the Irish-influenced "Sweet, Sweet Maggie O’Flannigan" (which melts back into the band’s typical sound about a minute-and-a-half in, give or take a few clever modulations). Oblique Strategies sez: "Do the words need changing?" More info…

Spook the Pigeons – Guy Malone
The three guys in Guy Malone are remarkably efficient for a jamband. There is very little wasted space in their songwriting. In a way, it’s textbook hippie composition — odd timed sections veering into one another, guitar flourishes and melodic doohickeys, guitar solos cut by the occasional chorus. Even so, at least on Spook the Pigeons, there’s (almost) always something going on, always a sense of forward motion through the material. It’s impressive and enjoyable, despite a few blander tunes (the instrumental funk excursion ‘Shadowboy,’ and even that resolves into an interesting Santana-like mid-section). The songs are far from mature, though are articulate and well-delivered for what they are. ‘John’s Camera,’ especially, is catchy as all hell. Other bits – like the transition track ‘Supercapacity’ – sound like (geeze) early Phish. When the band merely grooves, they sound like they’re treading water. To the Umph they should listen, and shred shred shred. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Courage.’ More info…
Country Dog Milk – Jervis Jort
On Country Dog Milk, the Jervis Jort octet stretches out over all manners of sax-driven bar funk. I’d imagine lead vocalist Z (no comment) is probably something of a character live, ‘cause – on disc – he doesn’t offer much charisma (though he’s got a passable smirk-heavy/half-spoken Zappa-like delivery that he employs occasionally, such as on ‘Coffee’s Ground’). The most original – and (perhaps) coincidentally, the shortest – track is the minute-and-a-half ‘Hyabusa,’ which careens through gospel, video games, pro wrestling, and classical string-plucking in about a minute-and-a-half, and manages to do so in an infeectious, unforced way. Unfortunately, ya can’t really say that much for the rest of the album — though hearing ‘Hyabusa’ certainly causes one to listen to the rest of the disc with a more curious ear. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Is it finished?’ More info…
In This Space and Time – Mood Cultivation Project
See, Billy, sometimes jambands are like ice cream flavors (yeah, that’s the ticket), and when a mommy and daddy ice cream flavor love each other very much, they combine (yep), and you get new ice cream flavors. Like Chocolate Tangerine. Or Minty Peanut Butter Coconuttiness. Or, in the case of the Mood Cultivation Project, Southern Rock and Swirl. Though their album-opening ‘Stay’ begins with a filtered space-bass solo, the septet quickly drops into a groove the old boys can whoop to. The Gov’t Mule-like guitar riffage which follows attests to that, as does the mandolin-supplemented ‘On the Road.’ And then, mixed in with all of what you would expect out of a Southern band, comes an occasional whirl of vintage ’90s synthesizers to techno the groove out for a hot minute. ‘Breathe Water’ is carried by a pretty unique rhythmic feel. Blink and you’ll miss a breakdown, though, ‘cause it’s still mostly Southern rock — both of the riff-crunching variety and the big ballad type. They could use more cookie dough. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Go outside. Shut the door.’ More info…
What It Is – Revision
Anything sounds better louder, and Revision’s What It Is ain’t no exception. The Ithaca quartet wades into the crowded seaside waters of soul-jazz and treads somewhere in the vicinity of lite R & B, especially on their contemporary sounding ‘Ithaca Weather.’ If not for the guitar/bass/drums/keys lineup, elements of the tune could almost sound lifted from the current hit parade. As such, Revision are probably an awesome college town band, and I can imagine their shows on cold upstate nights with classes clattering and people chattering being smoking and drunken. By the light of day, the music doesn’t quite play out with the same appeal, though it’s not for lack of trying. There are some nice moments on What It Is, including the delightfully Phish-like ‘Azul.’ Revision clearly have the chops to pull together interesting materail, and ears to pull from modern ideas, but they haven’t yet found anything resembling an original voice. Even if they shed it for something more mature, introducing a sense of humor into the music might be a good start. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action.’ More info…
Caleb Coolville – Roadside Zoo
Ann Arbor’s Roadside Zoo made an unfortunate choice in tapping "Funky Song" to open their debut album, Caleb Coolville. Down to the unimaginative title, the song embodies just about every single cliche regarding hippie funk that one can imagine, from the woefully generic groove to the repetitive lyrics about the singer’s ‘brand new funky song.’ Live at the Apollo it ain’t. It’s a surprise, then, that the band isn’t nearly as bad as all that suggests. The vaguely Sublime-influenced ‘Jesus On the Beach’ is good clean college fun. ‘94’ is the obligatory country-shuffle road song. Engineer Pat Smith must be given big ups for the dope clear sound he got out of keyboardist Cole Cevilbiss’s Rhodes (or Rhodes patch?) with underscores several songs with it’s crystalline bell-like tone, including the half-spoken ‘Species,’ which could (almost) be a latter-day Lou Reed talking blues (seriously). Caleb Coolville is uneven – its ups and downs, strikes and gutters – but likely a darned fun night in Ann Arbor. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Do nothing for as long as possible.’ More info…
Roadhouse Boogie – The Savoy Truffle
Like, whoa, man. I remember reading about these guys – a Japanese Southern rock band – in the Jerry-lined pages of Relix back when they used to print Dead setlists. Good to know they’ve perservered. With less of an emphasis on funk, Savoy Truffle is slightly older school than their Japanese jamband compadres in Big Frog. Singing in English, they do the Allmans thang well (check out the ripping lickage throughout "Beat Around the Bush"), but there’s something slightly off about their application of the usual blues-rock tropes (which certainly makes it more charming than if they’d gotten it all ‘right’). The lyrics to the otherwise normal ‘Lowdown Blues,’ for example: ‘The women can stand it / can’t live off of love / As the world goes around / Everybody’s getting down / But all that I know to be true / This is me / It’s getting hotter all the time.’ Certainly all of those lines make sense in a blues-rock tune (except maybe the first one), but – strung together – not so much, not even following the already strange internal logic of blues lyrics. Listening to the music is not altogether different from trying to parse the words — it’s complete, but it’s not all there. And, hey, that’s kinda fun. Gimmie Savoy Truffle over Gov’t Mule any day (though they can let Warren sit in if he wants to). Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element.’ More info…
Who We Are – Spindrift
In the grand box set of jambands, Spindrift are a perfectly servicable archetype — soaring guitar harmonies ("San Francisco Nights"), utopia-extolling lyrics ("Someday Soon"), bluegrass shuffle disintegrating into spacey jams ("Underworld") and so on down the line. If the lyrics to the aforementioned "San Francisco Nights" are hokey, they’re also totally earnest. "No matter what your thing is / or how you like to freak / Come dance the night away / in a city that speaks." The music doesn’t quite match the romanticism (which could easily serve as the lyrics for a wispy ’40s standard), but the liner photos of barbecues, camp-outs, extended families, and all manners of wackiness seem to indicate that Spindrift are, in fact, living the Good Life on the west coast. And good for them! Who We Are probably won’t catalyze your own, but it’s a not-unpleasant glimpse into theirs. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Don’t be frightened of cliches.’ More info…
Vintage Freshness – Spiral Intuition
Besides a seemingly unnatural obsession with the work of the Zucker brothers (especially the Naked Gun movies), Spiral Intuition’s most remarkable trait seems to be their thorough knowledge of Ohio geography. Though that might first seem a pithy compliment, it lends their otherwise generic funk a firm sense of place — anchoring incidents on I-80 and various locales around the greater Cleveland area, including (but not limited to) the Flats, Lake Erie, and Elyria (not to mention even more local spots, like street names and burger joints). But, while Phil Harrison’s lyrics are enjoyable, even sincerely emotional, the band sounds as if they could be from anywhere. When and if they can find a proper musical setting for Harrison’s lonely Ohio landscapes, their music could be truly haunting. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Remember those quiet evenings.’ More info…
self-titled – Spunhuny
With rhythm guitarist and executive producer Steve Hurlbut also co-directing the upcoming documentary Dreadheads (soundtrack by Spunhuny) to be released by Mutant Girl Films, and Spunhuny’s new album slapped with the ‘Mutant Girl Records’ brand, the Atlanta quartet seem to be at the heady epicenter of their own self-made media empire. The nine songs on their self-titled debut err on the jammy side of bar band power pop. The quartet play more than competently with each other, and primary songwriter Michael May is a fine tunesmith, but there is little unique to recommend itself about Spunhuny’s music. The grooves are vaguely funky, the solos kinda smokin’, and the lyrics sorta contemplative. Some variation from the usual songwriting structures would be helpful. Hopefully, the dreads’ll be good ‘n’ gnarly. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Take a break.’ More info…

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