CD reviews: Colorado bands serve up groove, folk and more
August 21, 2009
Reviews of recent CDs by Colorado music-makers:
At their best, the acoustic quartet Yonder Mountain String Band offers a fresh, though modestly skilled whack at mixing string-band music with rock. “Out of the Blue,” the lead track on the band’s fifth album, “The Show,” is a good example: a chugging rhythm, a catchy guitar hook, some fine banjo-picking and a nice lyric about romantic hope – just about enough to make you overlook the hyper-caffeinated singing.But the band wastes no time in revealing a lesser side. The second track, “Complicated,” starts with the lame line, “There is fire and there’s light,” and doesn’t get much less lame afterwards, trying to blend catchy pop, acoustic rock and even some New Wave ideas. Overall, “interesting” is about the best one can say about Yonder’s attempts to cross bluegrass and rock – here, “interesting” can mean puzzling and unsatisfying, or it can sometime mean genuinely interesting, as on the sloppy but effective “Belle Parker.”Yonder Mountain String Band plays Thursday, Aug. 27 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and Friday, Aug. 28 at Red Rocks. Yonder Mountain mandolinist Jeff Austin performs as Jeff Austin & Friends Sept. 19 at Belly Up Aspen.
When Dave Watts started up the Motet more than a decade ago, he and fellow drummer Scott Messersmith took a trip to Cuba to hone their Afro-Caribbean rhythms. I’m not sure if the Motet percussion-trust has visited Africa, but over the years, they have set their sights further east. “Dig Deep” opens with two tunes by the late Nigerian Fela Kuti, the innovator of Afro-pop. The sounds get even richer when Watts and Co. play the original song “Nemesis,” which adds echoes of Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters to the African base. The title track hints at Jamaican dub, but with stimulating touches of modern groove and an overall jazz approach thrown in. “Dig Deep” is mostly instrumental, but the addition of vocals, by Jans Ingber, on the soulful, funky “Push” doesn’t impede the beat. Fans of Afro-pop and groove will dig this.
Sarah Jarosz was born and raised in Texas, But the 18-year-old came up, musically speaking, at the Rockygrass Festival in Lyons, where she honed her playing (on mandolin, guitar and banjo), songwriting, and lovely, unforced, bluesy voice. At Rockygrass, she also acquired a bunch of friends and admirers, most of whom show up here on her debut: fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Chris Thile, dobroist Jerry Douglas and much of the rest of acoustic royalty. Which brings up the question: Is “Song Up in Her Head” enjoyable because of the roster of musicians? Or is it because Jarosz is extraordinarily talented?Answers: Despite the pickers here, it is Jarosz’s songs and voice at the center of the album. And these guys don’t line up behind just any teenage singer. So while I’m tempted to say, Heck, I could make a fine record with Duncan, Thile, et al. on my team, the reality is they wouldn’t get into a studio with me. And if they did, it wouldn’t sound this firstname.lastname@example.org