Composed of principle members Peter Buck (REM, Minus 5), Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, REM), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season), bassist Kevin Hudson, and horn players Dave Carter and Craig Flory, Tuatara return from a four-year hiatus to release East Of The Sun. Tuatara has evolved from an instrumental project to an ever-growing, eclectic ensemble, including vocals and spoken word. Guest vocalists include Mark Olson and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Sufi Poet Coleman Barks, Mark Eitzel of American Music Club, Jessy Greene of the Geraldine Fibbers, Luna's Dean Wareham, John Wesley Harding, Gina Sala, Victoria Williams, Flamenco legend Ottmar Liebert, and Iraqi oudist, Rahim Alhaj.
What started as an occasional collaboration has evolved into an ongoing supergroup with ten years and four albums to their collective credit. With their latest effort, Tuatara expands its pedigree, adding some big name singers like Mark Eitzel, John Wesley Harding, Dean Wareham, Victoria Williams and Gary Louris to this Peter Buck/Scott McCaughey/Barrett Martin amalgam. It also marks a distinct change in tactic; where earlier albums dabbled in cinematic soundscapes and an eclectic fusion-esque stance, the new effort takes a more conventional approach via traditional song structures. That's not to say they've abandoned their eccentric ambitions altogether. Given that the album's concept is centered on Eastern philosophy and spiritual musings that involve reincarnation, the circle of life and a journey to the hereafter, their high-minded intents ensure an upward glance. With three spoken word narratives to provide the psychedelic spin, Dave Carter's muted trumpet, Jessy Greene's seductive violin and guest Ottmar Liebert's flamenco guitar ground the proceedings with their seductive embrace. The Olson/Williams duet on "All The Colors In The World" recalls the mournful balladry that characterized Olson's stint with the Jayhawks, while Harding's duet, "Orpheus Must Die," provides the most emphatic refrain. An intriguing indulgence, repeated listens are deemed mandatory. --Lee Zimmerman, Amplifier