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Published: 2010/07/26
by Randy Ray

Ali Baba’s Tahini
Living Room

SCI Fidelity

Returning to an older band once one has established their main band can often be tricky. On one hand, why bother? If a musician is getting one’s rocks off with a sweet sonic breadwinner, why return to the roots from whence they came? Well, why, indeed, as Ali Baba’s Tahini’s latest release proves to be a pleasant exception to that conservative rule. Umphrey’s McGee guitarist/vocalist Jake Cinninger’s original band has recorded, and occasionally done brief runs of bars and clubs, over the last decade since his arrival in the UM camp in September 2000. Often, the music has been fun, exciting, and off the wall, yet never completely resonating within the scheme of things in the Cinninger ledger.

Which makes Living Room all the more enjoyable since all of those disparate and eccentric influences culled and pulled and integrated within the textures of their past music have found a framework, at long last, in the studio. The quintet, featuring Cinninger on guitar and vocals, his longtime ABT collaborator Karl Engelmann on guitar and vocals, Jeff Hinkle on bass, Steve Krojniewski on drums, and Justin Powell on keyboards, rolls through fifteen tracks of diverse lyrical and instrumental imagery, which are as memorable as ear candy as they are as intriguingly colorful trips for the mind. Neither stylistically abrasive nor off-key, ABT creates great hooks with smart ideas tailing out beyond the edge of bliss.

Familiar motifs abound (often ABT sounds like Ween as a kick ass country band filtered through a Dick Dale amp with a bit of Beach Boys harmony vocals for good measure). But it is the group’s ability to rise above their borrowed concepts and form a unified and unique group identity that makes this platter so palatable. A simple ode to childhood friends (“Bike”), slips into a dreamy reggae waltz (“Unity”), before a long passage of drifting melancholy emits warm feelings of home (“Living Room”), and leading into a lethal bout of rockanova (“Dose of the Real World”). Onwards, two exquisite instrumentals (the surreal and wave-y “Guilt” and the post-prog gem “Armadillo”) sandwich a meaty trio featuring island darkness (“Temptation”), grunge (“Cold Beers at Mickey’s Pub”), and a brilliant wedding of lyrical content and melodic dreamland, which could easily find a sweet spot in Keller Williams’ catalogue (“Ringo Likes the Velvet”).

ABT finishes off their out-of-left-field minor masterpiece with another trilogy of songs, which are, initially, all over the geographic genre map, but, somehow, in almost a synchronistic and magical way, the quartet manages to gather it all together in their experienced grab bag of tricks, and make it work. Floating along in ambient splendor (“Altitude”), bequeaths a multi-textured metal beast with various other fixations (the astounding ménage a trios layering on “Lust” is a Room highlight), and “Rollin’ On,” which features Engelmann on acoustic and vocals with an intimate vibe as if he’s there in the listener’s living room. And that’s what good, timeless music is about anyway—bringing it all back home. Ali Baba’s Tahini, after a long layoff, which included co-ring leader Cinninger consolidating his strengths with his day job band, Umphrey’s McGee, has found itself home with something worthy of their existence.

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