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Published: 2008/12/22
by Randy Ray

This Day & Age – Al & the Transamericans

This Day & Age – Al & the Transamericans (Basemental

Alce en Vivo de los Muertos – Ha Ha the Moose (self-released)

During moe.’s current hiatus, band members have been involved in side projects with intriguing results ranging from the sublime moment to the drunken outburst.

On This Day & Age, Al Schnier, moe. guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist, along with the Transamericansmoe. drummer Vinnie Amico, Strangefolk’s bassist/vocalist Erik Glockler, Okemah’s keyboardist/vocalist Kirk Juhas, and Gordon Stone on banjo and pedal steel guitardeliver an engaging work which, yes, never strays too far away from its alt.country roots, but also never forgets melody, nuance, and rich songwriting.

Indeed, not to get all T-Bone Burnett on all y’all, but the five new Schnier songs on this 11-track album have a visual Americana quality rarely found in moe.’s material. “Grass is Greener” features a sharp hard rock riff within a patient country tune. A drifting hammock-filled repose slumbers its way into “Somewhere in Kansas.” A gospel passage frames the roots-rock portrait on “Everything Here.” And “Blue Eyed Angel” provides a sharp hook within a rolling thunder beat, while good old-fashioned bluegrass stomps throughout the closing “Promised Land.”

Elsewhere, “Some of the Parts” is a thing of beauty with a great closing bit of pathos, “Time” manages to arc and lift one almost into a 1970s Todd Rundgren soundscape, Juhas’ “Light of the Moon” jumps off the Presley “Mystery Train,” before heading off with a Bruce Hornsby strut, and “Another Home” tumbles out The Band’s barroom door with dignity intact. Influences and cultural motifs aside, This Day & Age points the way backwards and forwards for this talented group of collaborators as the answers sought during those challenging nine-to-fivers can sometimes be found on lunch hour with tunes that appear to always have been around, floating on some distant highway horizon.

Ha Ha the Moose, meanwhile, is an occasional moe. side project that found its way onto the 2008 Summer Camp festival stage, later touring bars and clubs in the fall. Consisting of bassist/vocalist Dr. Guano, guitarist Jeff VonKickass, and drummer Sludge—or moe.'s Rob Derhak, Chuck Garvey, and Jim Loughlin—the band bends noodles in the New York jamband when they aren’t licking the proverbial devil toad in moose hats. Nestled near the end of Ha Ha the Moose’s 5-song live EP, Alce en Vivo de los Muertos, a fan shouts, “You can do better!” And you know, they can, and it’s called moe., but this is the Moose.

The band describes themselves as "Regional Mexican/fusion/German pop," which would be really cool and quite psychotic if it were true. Instead, they play a weird blend of ska, hard rock, '80s covers, Dr. Demento-isms, and Zappaesque songs as mythical lyric beasts. Shredding is minimal, but the songs, led by Guano and VonKickass, are hilariously engaging albeit bereft of anything remotely resembling a conceptual continuity.

Not that one is necessarilyuh, necessary, as they quip, riff, and spew at the audience during their own tales of stuttering Ulysses on a journey home from various Waffle Houses with a playful dig at a friend’s vocabulary (“The Ten Things Vin’s Most Likely to Say”), a rockabilly-infused “Thirsty Carbuncle," a slow breakdown (“Ha Ha the Moose Theme”), and Hendrix via a bizarre alternate version of “Voodoo Chile” (“Devil Toad”), before rolling into a 12-minute anti-prog/white trash suite called “Redneck Trilogy," which has Guano wading through the crowd to ask fans what they would do in the name of that oddly-patented form of Bushism: FREEDOM. Derhak gets what he asks for, proving the band’s motto, which is tweaked and tossed out during “Thirsty Carbuncle” on this ballsy EP: “we’re not as good as them, but we’re fuckin’ way better than you.”

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