Death is inevitable, but it can be reacted and channeled in different ways. That is the case for Dave Matthews Band during the making of their seventh studio album entitled ‘Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King’. Leroi Moore, the band’s saxophonist and founding member, passed away due to an ATV accident in his farm in Virginia just as the band started out on the process of album making.The band pays its highest tribute to Moore’s death by holding on to their legacy to keep doing what they do best together, playing music (including on the day the news arrived when the band was scheduled to play in Staples Center, CA) and finishing the album.
The making process of this album involves slightly different featuring musicians than the last ones. Tim Reynolds (electric guitar) is back after long hiatus on the album, Rashawn Ross (trumpet) is still collaborating with his solid musical ideas, and 3x Grammy Award winner Jeff Coffin being the latest recruited member not long after Moore passed away. Along with the rest of the original band members, Dave Matthews (vocal, guitar), Carter Beauford (drums), Boyd Tinsley (violin), and Stefan Lessard (bass), and having Rob Cavallo as a producer, the band has managed to make a record that gives a significant point mark on their album history. Something that will please the ears of the newcomers but more importantly, something that oldtimers are longing about for years. A simply great, back-to-the-roots, well-composed, rock-solid album.
With its liner notes’ illustration all designed by Matthews, the album starts out in a great atmospheric intro entitled ‘Grux’, which is the piece that consists of Moore’s playing with the companion of Beauford’s smooth drum filling and Lessard’s bass.
Not to get too comfortable, because the mood will soon be boosted up by the following upbeat track ‘Shake Me Like A Monkey’. The funk elements with trumpet-driven melody truly stands out in this track, giving the album a truly powerful start.
‘Funny The Way It Is’ serves as the first single of the album. With the slight touch of political remark, Matthews delicately writes the lyrics in accordance to our daily life with a slightly different, somewhat-sarcasm-yet-humble perspective. The line “Funny the way it is, not right or wrong, somebody’ heart is broken, then it becomes her favorite song” points out the somewhat-overlooked reality side of our life. The song itself is densely polished with the combination of Reynold’s dynamic guitar solo and Tinsley’s spirited violin playing.
‘Why I Am’ is the second single of the album, in which the band specifically wrote in the tribute of Moore. The line “…still here dancing with the Groogrux king” refers to Moore as the ‘Grux’, which is the nickname invented by the band when they first started out in 1991 as a representation of something beyond greatness, felt to the bone and indescribable by words.
‘Spaceman’ is a song that is built around Matthews’ distinct guitar playing style with Beauford’s jazzy drumming fill, making it a great breeze of grooviness presented in the album. Matthews’ uncanny lyrics could not be more satire in this tune: ‘All the freaks are on parade, I wanna fill my belly so I gotta get paid, doesn’t everybody deserve to have a good life? But it don’t always work out, so cry cry baby if we must..’
‘Alligator Pie’ is the slightly unusual tune for the band to bring. The heavy element of Banjo appears throughout the song played by ‘Danny Barnes’. Combined with tight grip between Beauford’s solid drum and Lessard’s bass, and accompanied by Tinsley’s sketchy violin, the tune gives a highly grass-root, bluesy spirited element to it, making it another powerful striking tune in the album.
This song is a tribute to those affected in New Orleans’ Katrina disaster in 2005, in which the city is also chosen as the place to record and finish this studio album.
‘Seven’ is the tune where the band manages to go deep into oddly time signature yet swinging it around like Newton’s cradle. Reynold’s electric guitar filling fits perfectly in this tune and the saxophone section by Coffin and Ross is dynamically integrated in this tune. ‘Time Bomb’ is the next tune that hits the mark as a solid rock tune with Matthews’ intense lyrics and powerful singing especially towards the end. His line ‘If I’m a ticking time bomb, waiting to blow my top, no one would ever know, not until I blew up’ may have highlighted the daily struggle of many working class people.
‘Baby Blue’ serves as the only acoustic tune in this album. Although Matthew has said in an interview of his great temptation to put the whole band joining in towards the end. The temptation might not have gotten through this time, but it did manage to find its way in one of their tune ‘Sweet’ in their following album ‘Away From The World’ (click for review).
Final track of this album is ‘You and Me’, which also serves as the third single of the band. Heavily driven by acoustic guitar, this tune highlights the importance of spending time with our loved ones no matter what the world. A small bits of Moore’s sax playing is put as a ‘hidden’ track not long after the song finished.
Overall, this album serves as a good coming back of Dave Matthews Band after two relatively unfavorable studio album, ‘Everyday’ and ‘Stand Up’, specifically for the old fans due to the musical direction the band chose to go. But this album does justice towards all the band’s old and new listeners. It is something the old fans are longing about (reminiscence of the glory times of Crash and Before These Crowded Street).
For the new listeners, it is something that will give a highly dynamic atmosphere within its ranges of tunes that are played with great passion, wickedly uncanny lyrics, and unique musical composition that the band have always possessed since its inception.
The feeling of celebration and love through daily struggle of life are deeply embedded in this album. Most of all, the band has managed to honor its longtime friend, Leroi Moore the ‘GrooGrux King’, by the establishment of this great, well-composed album.
Writen by: Bimo Murti | Singer-songwriter of Lazy Saturday Project | EP debut is available here