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Rusted Root
Stereo Rodeo

Touchy Pegg

About eight years ago I saw Rusted Root at a small venue somewhere in Connecticut. It was not a positive experience. There was too much happening on stage. Michael Glabicki changed guitars for every song; I could hardly hear a difference in tone (nor could I understand a word he said). And, between the six or so other people in the band, it was hard to pick out one who was actually contributing more than a couple of notes or beats at a time. It was all too scattered, nothing was coming together. Yet given the fact that the band is revered by so many, I was interested to see what Rusted Root might have in store for Stereo Rodeo, the group’s first album in seven years.

When I hit play on Stereo Rodeo and the opening guitar chords of “Dance in the Middle” sang through my car speakers, it was a little exciting. As the rest of the band jumped in, there was an instant inclination to snap my fingers, clap my hands, bob my head, shuffle my feet, even sing along. The bass line moves, the drums and guitar rock, Glabicki’s vocals are clear. “Come on, I can treat you right,” he tells you. The song lives up to its name. The energy builds, Liz Berlin’s harmonies add some more dimension to the song. As Root is known for their percussion, there is a breakdown at about 3:25, and the energy is again brought up for one final climax before it ends. Whooo! That’s a good time.

The next two songs, “Suspicious Minds” and “Weary Bones,” are slightly less catchy, but they let the album settle in and exemplify Rusted Root’s style. It was “Bad Son” that really surprised me. Lyrically, it seems to be an argument between a father and son. There are screams of “You’re not listening!” and “It’s time to clean up this mess, it’s time for bed” and even one high-pitched “ok!” (for some reason, I’m picturing a Fly Girl waving her hands a la In Living Colour). Perhaps they are trying for a metaphor of something larger, but if so it seriously misses the mark. At the core, it reeks of spoiled brat, which, let’s be honest, is just plain annoying. When “Give Grace” comes on, it’s quite a relief from the piercing screams of the previous song. It’s calmer, simpler, like that moment of quiet you get after screaming at your parents and slamming the door over a too-early curfew.

The rest of the album is much of the same: a roller coaster ride of emotions and musical ideas. At times the lyrics, which could be a saving grace, fall short with cheesy rhyming and missed metaphors. For example, the line from “Garbage Man”:

I’m your garbage man
Is this your garbage can?
I’m here to throw these things out
Like your misguided plans

The word misguided is quite apt. After seven years, one would expect that Rusted Root would not only come out with saddles blazing and carry that momentum as far as it would go. Unfortunately, after that initial fire, Stereo Rodeo does little more than simmer.

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