“Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King” – ‘Dave Matthews Band’ [Joint Review]
Well, when I said we had some aces up our sleeve, ‘Dave Matthews Band’ was one of them. We’ve kept this ‘shaken monkey’ locked-up in a cage for about a solid week, and the screeching has just about worn my nerve down to the bone. I’ll have to admit: kudos goes to Michael Hodder on this one, all on part with his dedicated music-research and his µTorrent capabilities. With a whopping 21 million+ hits on www.last.fm alone, if you’ve only just come across ‘DMB’, you’ve certainly missed out on some classic hits. A favourite of mainstream, ‘DMB’ has managed to attract a larger audience – I suspect – from their radio-listeners. Back a few years ago, you might remember their smash hit, and my personal favourite, “American Baby”.
Funnily enough, in the year of the palindrome – 1991 – ‘DMB’ came together in Charlottesville, VA. South African native singer and guitarist ‘Dave Matthews’, bassist ‘Stefan Lessard’, ‘LeRoi More’ [various instruments: flute, sax, etc], ‘Boyd Tinsley’ the violinist, drummer ‘Carter Beauford’ and ‘Peter Griesar’ [who left in 1993] on keyboards, are/[were] the six[five]-piece band that make up ‘DMB’.
So, onto the album:
I’ve never really listened to a ‘DMB’ full-length feature before; to be entirely honest, I was a kid who lived on the meagre offerings of mainstream just a few years ago, and perhaps the odd occasional mainstream-related album that came into my possession. When “American Baby” burst out onto that music forefront, I did my best to find some of ‘DMB’s’ prior stuff at that time. And when that failed miserably, I left it at that and moved on, as the typical mainstream-kid does when he can’t find enough music he wants.
“Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King” is my first real taste of ‘DMB’ in all their glory, and although I’ve only got one song of theirs to relate to, I’ve still got all this new-expertise and knowledge that I’ve gained over the past few months in concern with other albums, other bands and other music. You and I and all of us know that some songs just ‘click’, and become that instant classic: “American Baby” just had this infectious rhythm, this intimate connection between listener and singer. And I’ve been listening – albeit, on and off – for a week, when I manage to spare some time from my other research, etc, etc. To be honest, I just can’t quite find that same click with ‘DMB’ and ‘Big Whiskey…” as I’ve had with so many other songs and so many other albums past.
I’m used to a little flare by now, a little exaggeration, a little bop here and a little bop there: a change-up from the left, an upper-cut from the right. And although those musical-black-eyes can be just as painful as they are delightful, you’ll find I’m a picture of health [minus my cold, at the moment] from beginning to end with “Big Whiskey…” Genre-wise, ‘DMB’ have been the ultimate crusaders, sticking to alternative rock without waver. And you’d expect that after eighteen-years of get-together, ‘DMB’ would have twisted that genre into something else. Sure, they’ve got the sax, sure they’ve got the flute, sure they’ve got a lot of other things: but dang, I want some more electric…
“Big Whiskey…” opens with “Grux”, and sounds akin to a musical-warm-up rather than an actual song: I’m still tossing up whether it’s necessary. I’ve only listened to a handful of albums which treat their music as if they were on stage, as if it were an act – scene one, scene two, etc. “Grux” is like the musical-equivalent of a book’s preface, it’s introducing the main characters, the sub-plot, storyline, and villain. A sly, insidious saxophone slithers onto that stage, and dances fluidly from one side to the other. You can almost see the hypnotic-glare, can’t you?
I know after the past few weeks I’ve mentioned ‘The Killers’ – mainly because their my favourite band, to date – and because they approach their music from a different perspective, strangle it by the throat, write the lyrics in it’s blood, and have the devil in chains playing lead. If you can think back to their album “Sam’s Town”, it’s easy to imagine, with their intro/outro attachments, that the album is like a carnival coming to some desolate town in the middle of nowhere. “Big Whiskey…” is like stepping into an alternative-rock-jazz underground joint; smoky atmosphere, hazy undergrowth of ash, spilt drinks, a bar at the back, and the “GrooGrux King” licking the reeds of his sax. “Grux” is such a thing, and the moment you step into “Big Whiskey…” ‘DMB’ have managed to hypnotise.
It comes together at the beginning mildly-well, ‘DMB’s’ new tactic maintains elusiveness so you have to listen to the rest of the album to get the bigger picture. “Shake Me Like A Monkey” explodes onto the stage with some upbeat acoustic percussion, some light bass/elec. and a blaring sax: “Come on pretty baby, make me lose my mind… Love me baby, love me baby, shake me like a monkey baby, I’m forever yours!” It’s got the potential to make a big hit, and I know in my delirium on Wednesday-night – in my influenza-state – I had “shake me like a monkey baby” playing over, and over, and over, and over, and over in my head.
instant classic = infectiousness + repetition x delirium
Because it follows on so marvellously-well with the prior opening, I’m slightly disappointed with the followers: “Funny The Way It Is” has a violin-highlight, but it falls back into the classic-album rut and we lose all that flow by the third track. ‘DMB’ are acoustic lovers, but a good “slap-in-the-face” would be some sole-electric by the fourth. Instead, “Lying In The Hands Of God” brings together waltz-like influences with a hint of reggae [albeit, subdued]. The acoustic here is soft, the lyrics are flawlessly brilliant “… save your sermons for someone who’s afraid to love…” I enjoy this song simply because it is what it is – it’s up there with “Shake Me Like A Monkey”, and it’s a good head-back drifter.
I’ll skip “Why I Am”, it is probably one of the weakest “Big Whiskey…” has to offer. “Dive In” has the same slow-elements “Lying In The Hands Of God” has, but lacks in layers a little. “Alligator Pie” brings some folk-elements to the scene, for the first time in “Big Whiskey”, and in my opinion, is the elephant in the room for “Big Whiskey…” so far. It’s incongruity is it’s downfall. “Time Bomb” has some intimate vocals, some strong percussion, and a laid-back sax. But nothing overly groundbreaking.
“You & Me” features as last, and unlike “Grux”, the opener, it’s the simple ‘last song’ scenario for the album. It’s a let down, and I’m still a little sour at this finish. It has its crescendo, but seems to be missing something: perhaps, even, shoved in for good measure. “Big Whiskey…” is like a single-sloped roller-coaster, first you start at the bottom, reach the top of the world, and slide ever-so slowly downwards until your eventual plummet leaves you hungry for more. I’ve been on that roller-coaster time and time again, I want some loops, I want some stalls.
Overall, I’m slightly disappointed with “Big Whiskey…”, because ‘DMB’ is one of those potential-bands, it’s malleable. Work it in the right direction, and you’ve got a masterpiece, like “American Baby”, but force it out, and you’ve got some jagged edges that need some smoothing. Some minor hiccups for a generally-alright band, but a measured 2.5 GrooGrux King reed’s outta five. I can’t bring myself to rate it a three, simply because some of the music on “Big Whiskey…”is painful to endure. Money-wise, I don’t really know – being a mainstream-favourite, it’s sure to receive some over-hype, and as a result, a price-rise. If it gets overlooked, better for the ‘DMB’ lovers. As for me, I’ll stick my guns and continue on my musical pilgrimage…
The Enantiomorphic God