Haynes, Govt Mule reach deep on live CD
The Double Diamond, in its day, hosted some huge names: the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, Sheryl Crow, the Dave Matthews Band. The Double D featured the biggest names in reggae, from Jimmy Cliff to Burning Spear to the Wailers. Rock, ska and bluegrass bands, and even the occasional punk and hip-hop act, played the late club.More than anything, however, the Double D was part of the jam-band scene. There was much more twirling than moshing; the vibe was usually mellow rather than intense. And much of the cream of the jam-band world Blues Traveler, moe., String Cheese Incident, Govt Mule, Dark Star Orchestra, Galactic, North Mississippi Allstars, Sound Tribe Sector 9 made its way onto the Double D stage.Which raises the question: Where around here can a jam band now play? The Wheeler Opera House isnt conducive to dancing or puffing. No other space is big enough for even a midlevel jam band. The Snowmass Conference Center is no place for a concert. And Jazz Aspens festivals only roll around in the summer.While we ponder the possibility of a ski season without a decent music club, feast your ears on these offerings from the jam world. And keep in mind, all of these bands once played a little Aspen club.Govt Mule, The Deepest Endproduced by Warren Haynes (ATO)For a few years Ive been spreading the word about Warren Haynes his versatility (he is de facto leader of both Govt Mule and the Allman Brothers, as well as a sideman in Phil Lesh & Friends), his productivity (he tours with all three bands, has released a handful of albums with Govt Mule in just a few years, and has made major contributions to recent Allman Brothers and Phil & Friends albums) and his talent. My campaign has not been for naught; in Rolling Stones recent list of guitar greats, Haynes placed an impressive No. 23. Haynes earns all that and more on the grandiose The Deepest End. The third, and likely final volume of a project that began with the death of original Mule bassist Allan Woody, The Deepest End was recorded at a magnificent musical party at New Orleans Saenger Theatre in May. Haynes and Mule drummer Matt Abst took advantage of the timing during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to assemble an insane guest list that includes Bla Fleck, Los Lobos David Hidalgo, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, plus a roster of bassists from Victor Wooten (Flecktones) and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) to George Porter Jr. (Meters) and Jack Casady (Hot Tuna). Equally massive is the content: two CDs and one DVD, for a total of six hours of fun.Fun it is. Among those that fit in the jam-band category, Govt Mule has the most assured sense of direction, even when playing with a rotating cast of guests. So The Deepest End is about as tight as six hours of music can be. Highlights include a pair of tunes Patchwork Quilt, Haynes tribute to Jerry Garcia, and Lay of the Sunflower with Fleck, whose banjo adds a gorgeous dimension; the Dirty Dozen joining in for a moaning take on the traditional John the Revelator; and Beautifully Broken, introduced by a delicate reading of Princes When Doves Cry. The DVD features such rarities as the Headhunters funk classic Chameleon; On Your Way Down by New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint; and Hendrixs full Voodoo Chile not the more popular Slight Return with Casady, who played the original version with Hendrix.Deep; hopefully not the end.String Cheese Incident, Untying the Notproduced by Youth (Sci Fi Fidelity)Ive been waiting for String Cheese Incident to harness its gift of inventive jamming and make the studio CD I suspect is in them. But they keep getting farther away from what I imagine that CD to be. Their last album, Outside Inside, was a weak, middling effort that played down String Cheeses strong points. With Untying the Not, they come further detached from all that makes the Cheese appealing; it is the sound of a band that doesnt know itself.Untying the Not, produced by trendy English producer Youth, finds String Cheese employing dance beats, electronic noise and a lethal dose of overdubbed, trancelike monologues. They do so while maintaining a threadbare link to their organic, bluegrass past, and it doesnt work. As the ponderous, sophomoric Mountain Girl ends, it segues into a brief, gratuitous vocal riff on the traditional Lonesome Road Blues. Somewhere in there a disconnected voice says, I want to scream. So do I. Valley of the Jig, which mixes Celtic melodies with pounding dance beats wouldnt be half bad if Afro-Celt Sound System hadnt beaten the Cheese to it.While adding new vices, String Cheese hasnt abandoned their old ones. They still have a knack for the meaningless hippie drivel: Step inside take a look at the tapestry untied/Set loose all the details that occupy your mind, from Looking Glass, may be the low point. (OK, one more: This song is for the people living this dream/Their minds twisted in an endless scream, from Wake Up.)In the press notes to the CD, the band explains that dire world issues and unspecified personal challenges have dictated that the band change direction, and explore the darker corners of music. But String Cheese has a nearly decade-long history as happy hippies, playing feel-good, dance-wild music. This is not a turn they have learned to negotiate. Some of this must be the influence of String Cheese having launched its On the Road series, which allows fans to order well-produced recordings of any live show. With so much band-sanctioned live material, String Cheese must feel a load of pressure to do something different when they get in the studio. They havent nailed it yet, and theyre not getting any closer.Not!Galactic, Ruckusproduced by Dan the Automator (Sanctuary)Galactic, too, brings in an electronica producer Dan the Automator Nakamura but their sound doesnt come entirely unglued in the process. On Ruckus, Galactic finds a comfortable middle ground between their organic, New Orleans groove jazz and the digital realm. Which isnt to say its an improvement over the old-school Galactic. The repetitious Bongo Joe can seem like a sampled loop that got stuck. But on the instrumental The Moil, Galactic shows the potential in putting its fat-as-a-hog rhythms, courtesy of drummer extraordinaire Stanton Moore, into an electronic context, and shortening up on the solos. On Gypsy Fade, the band enters new territory, working vocals around a clipped bass line. On the few vocal tracks, including the breezy Uptown Odyssey, the production provides a different setting for singer Theryl deClouet Ruckus may not be Galactic at its best. But unlike Untying the Not, you can see the light ahead. Theyre stretching, not falling apart.Dont quit that RuckusThe Derek Trucks Band, Soul Serenadeproduced by John Snyder and Trucks (Columbia)Soul Serenade, recorded in 1999, is only now seeing the light of day. In between, the Derek Trucks Band recorded and released Joyful Noise. My guess is it has something to do with the band lineup: keyboardist Bill McKay, who appears on Soul Serenade, is no longer with the group.Clearly the album was not shelved for quality reasons. Sustaining a fairly mellow vibe throughout, the DTB works up jazzy versions of Elvin, a tribute to drummer Elvin Jones; Wayne Shorters arrangement of the traditional Oriental Folk Songs; and a medley of the King Curtis title track and Bob Marleys Rasta Man Chant. The only tune that gets frenzied in its jamming is Mongo Santamarias Afro-Blue.Soul Serenade is far less sprawling than Joyful Noise. The only guest singer is Gregg Allman, who does his usual thing on the deep blues Drown in My Own Tears. Apart from that, Soul Serenade maintains a focus on Trucks slide guitar.Thankfully not a lost Soul.Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Callingproduced by ARU and Rodney Mills (Inio Music)Among my favorite unsung bands was the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Comprising vocalist, chazoid player and master of the bizarre Col. Bruce Hampton and a bunch of monster young players, the ARU served as a guiding light for the nascent jam-band scene in the early 90s. The band disintegrated partly for lack of commercial success, partly because the players took gigs with the Allman Brothers, the Derek Trucks Band, etc. The announcement of a new ARU recording had me cautiously enthused. Who exactly was the ARU now, and what did a new recording mean? Its most of the old band: Jimmy Herring, who has taken Jerry Garcias place in the Dead; Oteil Burbridge, bassist for the Allmans; his brother Kofi, from the Derek Trucks Band, on keyboard and flute; and Paul Henson, who took Hamptons place in a later version of the ARU. Drumming is a newcomer, Sean ORourke, replacing Jeff Apt. Q-258 Sipe, now with Susan Tedeschi. The Calling was recorded in 2000, after a producer reminded the band they had a bunch of songs that had gone unrecorded. It was not released until now due to contractual issues.Its hard to evaluate The Calling without comparing it to the albums with the original lineup. Yes, the instrumentation is fabulous complex and hard-hitting. But Henson, a good singer, doesnt have the vocal character of Hampton. The eclecticism has been replaced by a repetitive jam/fusion. The Calling is good, but that original mojo is missing.Calling the Colonel!Smokestack, Chasing the Hippo … ,produced by SmokestackMichigan quartet Smokestack makes easygoing, jazz- and funk-inflected jams on this live album from April of this year, recorded at Leopold Brothers in their hometown of Ann Arbor.Reasonably smoking.
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