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The best DMB album in over a decade
on June 4, 2009
"These songs are some of the strongest ones we've done in a long time."
- Boyd Tinsley
"He [Leroi Moore] would always say, `Take it to the next level.' That's what we've done here. We've taken it to the next level."
- Dave Matthews
"It was time to unleash the tiger."
- Carter Beauford
The first time I heard songs from "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King" was at the May 29 show at Fenway Park. Listening to live versions of songs like "Seven," "Why I Am," "Squirm," and "Time Bomb" immediately had me and my friends thinking "Whoah... this album is different. This album is going to be GOOOOOD!"
And it is. It's REAL good. I've been listening to the CD for a solid week, and I can say that it is, by far, DMB's best album in over a decade. They haven't played with this level of passion and tenacity since their back-to-back classics "Crash" and "Before These Crowded Streets" from the late 90s.
It's not hard to figure out where the intensity comes from. In 2008, DMB experienced a serious double whammy. First, they nearly broke up due to interpersonal struggles, "toxic" energy, and a lack of leadership (according to Dave). This was followed by the tragic death of founding member and horn-player extraordinaire Leroi Moore.
The result? A massive reboot of purpose and energy. With the help of Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, the Dave Matthews Band has once again found their "A" game. "Big Whiskey" is the sound of a band that is NOT mailing it in... instead, they sound like musicians that are psyched to play together and ready to go for it (to "unleash the tiger," as Carter says in the DVD documentary.)
The opening notes of the CD is a sublime Leroi solo, a voice from the past calling us forward. Then we plunge into the wall of sound that is "Shake Me Like a Monkey." It's a wonderfully funky stew - with Stefan's meaty, thumping bass line punctuated by Rashawn Ross's crisp trumpet and spiced up by Dave's tasty, hilarious lyrics ("I like coffee with toast and jelly. But I'd rather be licking from your back to your belly.")
"Funny The Way It Is," the CD's first single, was a perfect opening song for the Fenway concert ("Lying in the park on a beautiful day. Sunshine in the grass, and the children play.") It's an agreeable little song that gets under your skin and doesn't let go. It has the same joyous, carefree energy of their 90's hit "Stay (Wasting Time)." I keep finding myself unconsciously humming it throughout the day.
"Lying In The Hands Of God" is just plain gorgeous. Dave's voice lazily drifts along... weaving in and around acoustic guitar, flute, clarinet, and an assortment of angelic voices. It is sublime surrender into the hands of Dave. Why resist?
"Why I Am" is, in my opinion, the album's stand out cut. Tim Reynolds' pulsing electric guitar gives it a ferocious, propulsive beat that sounds unlike anything DMB has done before (DMB `plugged'!!!) It's also the song that gives the album its name. "GrooGrux King" was one of Leroi's nicknames, and the song honors him in numerous ways. ("Still here dancing here with the GrooGrux King. We'll be drinking Big Whiskey while we dance and sing.") Much of the album was recorded in New Orleans - one of Leroi's favorite places - and this song would fit right in at a Mardi Gras celebration... as would "Alligator Pie," a song that Dave wrote for his daughter Stella. Evidently, he has included his other daughter's name (Grace) in songs several times, so Stella said, "Daddy, when you gonna put ME in a song?" This one's for you, Stella. It's driven by a frisky banjo and Carter Beauford's shufflin' beat - it could be the Cajun sibling to "Louisiana Bayou" from the last album "Stand Up." I can't wait to see what they do with this when they play it live. The crowd is going to go CRAZY.
Listen to "Seven" and see if you can figure out what makes it different from just about any song that you've every heard... It begins with electric guitar power chords that would make Aerosmith proud (thank you, Tim Reynolds!) and then it slips into something wonderfully strange. As Dave croons his suggestive lyrics about wishing that his boyhood innocence could have been informed by his adult wisdom ("I never knew what I do now"), notice that the song's odd rhythms are created with SEVEN beats to the measure. Not four. Not three. Seven! It gives the song a cool awkwardness that perfectly matches its subject matter. Just don't try to dance to it, because that missing `beat' will wreak havoc with your groove. It reminds me of The Pretender's classic "Tattooed Love Boys", which had seven beats to the measure every other measure.
I also LOVE the ominous crescendos of "Squirm," the beautiful, lilting "Baby Blue," and the plaintive wail in "Time Bomb" ("Baby when I get home, I wanna believe in Jesus. Hammer in the final nail, Help me pick up the pieces.") And be sure to wait for appx. 40 seconds after the final song, "You & Me," is over to hear a final little ditty by Leroi.
The bottom line? A great album, a fitting tribute to Leroi, and a huge sigh of relief for DMB fans everywhere, knowing that Dave and the boys did NOT break up but instead are now making some of the best music of their prolific careers. Why I am? It's why they are. We all get to dance with the GrooGrux King!