Dave Matthews - Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King
Record Label: RCA
Release Date: June 2, 2009
It's only fitting that the first album the Dave Matthews Band (DMB) releases without departed band member LeRoi Moore opens and closes with a sax solo. That opening song is "Grux," a two-minute instrumental, whose title is a shortened nod to "GrooGrux," a moniker Dave and bandmates gave LeRoi during his 15-year run with the band. It's a brief, spicy and accelerated introduction to an album that is easily the band's most daring, buoyant and emotional. It's also their best.
The ultra-funky "Shake Me Like a Monkey," is a sweaty, busy and frenetic romp with sharp edges, dizzying verses and a rollicking chorus that's arguably as sharp and sassy as anything the band has ever put down in the studio. Quite simply it's swerving energy is impossible to deny. Lead single "Funny The Way It Is," opens with a nuanced guitar, and Dave's trademark howl. The soaring and ecstatic chorus details the highs and lows of a life and it's a sentiment that seems to be most appropriate for a record such as this. While Moore was alive during pre-production, he never saw the finished product and that bittersweet sentiment is exactly what the lead single hits on.
The slow-jam "Lying In the Hands of God," begins with a hushed vocal and while melodically it doesn't really go anywhere, Matthews' vocals are crystal clear during the chorus and it may serve as one of his better vocal triumphs. It's chill and tame nature is a perfect companion to the band's prior repertoire, sitting comfortably next to the elegiac "Sister," and "Out Of My Hands," to name but a few. The album moves along with "Why I Am," a song that serves more or less as the title track, and whose lyrics prove to be a nod to Moore and his vibrancy for life. That energy is paralleled nicely with the funky guitar lines, blistering horns and its groove-based jam. There's even a fiery guitar solo and a soaring bridge to kick it into overdrive. While many Dave songs can sound like one giant party, "Why I Am," is the epitome of that exact sentiment.
The intricate horn work on "Spaceman," welcomes a poignant lullaby with a stylized acoustic opening that's soft and light and hearkens back to the band's breakthrough debut Under the Table and Dreaming. While the gooey sentiment of "Just remember, I love the way you move. I love the way you love me baby," is a bit trite, Matthews has always been known for throwing in his fair share of corny verses. The swampy, banjo-fueled rocker "Alligator Pie," is a self-indulgent, zydeco-like boogie with a clever guitar run and a batch of lyrics about his daughter Stella, and while it's an enjoyable song, it doesn't offer much to the album's full framework. It's a groove song, first and foremost, but then again so too are "Grey Street," "Two Step," and "The Best of What's Around," and they remain crowd favorites.
"Squirm" or as Matthews prefers, "Skworm," is a driving rocker with a huge horn-fueled chorus and an urgency and tension that brings the song to a simmering boil. Matthews is always at his best when he allows his vocals to soar to an impassioned degree that borders on seething and "Squirm," is a fine example of how he can do such a thing without compromising the song. He tries that energy again on "Time Bomb, " while chanting rather angrily, "I want to believe in Jesus," and for someone who has endured as much pain as he has, it's a rather believable declaration. Is it a bit overwrought? Absolutely, but no work of art is ever free from its shortcomings. "Seven" much like live favorite "Corn Bread," features vocal gymnastics, a slight scream, and far too much musical chaos. It's as painful as listening to someone with laryngitis and it's far too repetitive, self-indulgent and sex-obsessed to be considered memorable. The album ends exquisitely with "Baby Blue" and "You and Me," both shimmering examples that the band's best work may still be unwritten.
Rather comically, Saturday Night Live's Cheri Oteri once said "if Virginia is for lovers, it's because DMB got them all smashed," and while it's hard to argue that line, it's even harder to argue the band's place in American contemporary music. Now more than 15 years into what has been a landmark career and one that has rewritten the history books, DMB are proudly forging ahead and doing so valiantly without one of its founding members. Is the album as good as their prior efforts? That's certainly hard to quantify. All of them have a rightful place and truth be told, the buoyant and syncopated nature of this release is as solid as anything they've ever done. And yes like much of the early press has documented, it is certainly their heaviest album. But unlike most musicians, the quartet never deviates from their trademark: an innate ability to fuse a cornucopia of worldly sounds into a palette that traverses ethnicity, race and culture.
On Big Whiskey, producer Rob Cavallo (Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day, My Chemical Romance) certainly allowed the band to up the sonic ante and the results are tremendous. Matthews offers his consistently sexy vocals, Carter Beauford bangs out elaborate, propulsive beats; bassist Stefan Lessard whips up thick and creative bass lines; and violinist Boyd Tinsley provides lively and spine-tickling violin runs. Though they certainly have their fair share of haters, there are enough that find merit and value in what they do and it's that devoted fanbase that has propelled them to six, incredibly consistent, organic and wholly original releases. Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King is a worthy successor to those six and it's that intensity that makes the anticipation for number eight all the more exciting.
it took me 20 minutes to find this at best buy today... it was hidden at the most obscure end of a random aisle! but that's besides the point. dmb has done it again. another musically impressive album added to their repertoire. it's not my favorite of their albums, at least not after a couple of listens, but it is absolutely excellent. i'm so happy to know dmb isn't done yet.