Seems like the more free time I have, the less willing I am to do blog entries. I’ve been on summer break for the last 2 weeks, and I’ve barely attempted a blog entry. I figure I’d do an entry on one of my highest anticipated albums of 2009, Dave Matthews Band’s Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King.
I could have done my review on Big Whiskey the day that it was released, but I wanted to wait until at least Friday, June 5th to do it. On this day, I attended NBC’s Today Show to see DMB perform. Took a 2 A.M. train to Manhattan, waited in line for almost 3 hours (in the rain), until I finally saw the band start performing at about 6:30 A.M. They played 5 songs in total, and all of them at least twice. It was pretty cool I have to say, seeing DMB play Ants Marching at 7 A.M. Probably a once in a lifetime experience, and overall, I’m glad I made the trip.
I’ve been looking forward to Big Whiskey since 2006, the date of DMB’s first studio sessions after the disasterous Stand Up (2005). Stand Up, a feeble studio attempt, put a bad taste in the mouths of many fans, and caused apprehension for the future of the band. DMB debuted a bunch of new songs in 2006 and 2007, and while I may have been excited in hindsight, I will admit that with the exception of “Shotgun”, none of the new songs gave me any hope for the future of the band. The unexpected death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore in mid-2008 didn’t help my prejudgment either. I truly thought this album, albeit most likely to better than the aforementioned Stand Up, was going to be another mediocre studio endeavor.
However I couldn’t have been more wrong. Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King proves to be a return to greatness for the Dave Matthews Band. Before I give my opinion on the full album, I will give a recap on my opinions for each song on the album:
Grux: The opening track of the album is essentially just a sax groove with some drums in the background. There was no better way to open the album than a tribute to the late LeRoi Moore, though. The jam culminates in a segue to the first actual song of the album, “Shake Me Like a Monkey.”
Shake Me Like a Monkey: This song sets the tone for the album to follow. Energetic and horn-driven, I expect to see this open live shows in the near future. Not one of my favorites on the album, but a decent song, nonetheless.
Funny the Way It Is: The song on the album that everyone has heard by now. The first radio single is pretty much just that: a radio song. It’s easily my least favorite song on the album, but I think it’s the strongest lead single since 1998’s “Don’t Drink the Water.” I’m kind of annoyed that this has been opening shows lately, though.
Lying in the Hands of God: This is without a doubt the best song on the album. It’s safe to say that this is the best-produced DMB studio song since the 90’s (unless you want to count the infamous Lillywhite Sessions). Everything about this song works. The music is incredible, featuring Tim Reynolds on the acoustic slide. The lyrics are probably some of my favorite on the record, as well. Probably one of my favorite parts of the entire record is the chorus of this song; “Save your sermons…” The vocal harmonies during this section are incredible. Definitely a song I would recommend checking out if you’re into DMB.
Why I Am: Another tribute to the fallen LeRoi Moore, it reference’s Moore’s nickname “GrooGrux” several times in the lyrics. I first heard this song over a month before the album was released, as it was played live during their spring tour. While I really enjoyed the live performances of this song, I see it now as a pretty generic song. One of my least favorites on the album, for sure.
Dive In: When I first heard this song, I wasn’t sure if was listening to “Karma Police” by Radiohead, or a Beatles song. The chord progression during the verses is almost identical to Karma Police, yet the vocal melody sounds exactly like something off of The White Album. At first listen, I really liked this song, but soon after I convinced myself that it was cheesy nonsense. I’ve reverted to my initial opinion, and I actually really like this song now. It’s so damn catchy, and I can definitely see it becoming a radio hit, especially in the summer months.
Spaceman: Here’s where the album really picks up. Spaceman also was debuted live prior to the album’s release, and it was my favorite of the bunch. I absolutely LOVE this song. The added banjo of Danny Barnes to the studio cut makes this song one of my favorites on the entire album. It has a classic DMB vibe to it, and pretty interesting lyrics. Definitely recommended.
Squirm: This song is an absolute monster. DMB has dabbled with the middle-eastern sounding tracks in the past (Minarets, Last Stop) and Squirm is another success in that genre. Probably my second favorite song on the album, it features some of Dave’s best lyrics in a very long time. Absolutely make sure you check this one out.
Alligator Pie: Big Whiskey was largely recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana, and this track is an example of why Dave loves that city so much. Unlike earlier New Orleans themed “swamp-rock” DMB songs (Louisiana Bayou, Cornbread), Alligator Pie is actually a good song. At first it seemed very average to me, however my opinion has GREATLY changed on this song. I now consider this one of the best tracks on the album. The tempo-changes of the breakdowns are awesome, and this song probably features my favorite bridge of any of the Big Whiskey songs (“All the things we know and everything we hope for…”). Great song.
Seven: Another song that debuted live before the album release. When I heard the first live version of this track, I hated it. When I heard the studio cut, I still hated it. Now I consider it nearly top tier on the album. This song has grown on me more than any song on the album. Why the sudden change? Who knows, but that’s the beauty of music. I now respect this song from a musical standpoint; the unusual time signature, and especially the funky horn section. Still think the lyrics could have used some work, but a great song regardless.
Time Bomb: “Time Bomb” was hyped a lot before the release of the album. It’s a pretty interesting song; the song starts off quietly, gradually builds up, and culminates into a heavy, Pearl Jam-esque outro (hence the title “Time Bomb”). After listening to a few live recordings of this song, I can safely say that this song is a beast live. My only gripe with the song is that the intro guitar riff is neglected after the first minute. This guitar section was shown to the fans in nearly every Big Whiskey promotional video, and I grew to love it. Unfortunately I feel like there isn’t enough of this guitar riff included in the song. Still an awesome song, anyway.
Baby Blue: This song, which features modified music from a different Dave Matthews song “Sister”, is obviously another song written about their late saxophonist. I think both the music and lyrics of Baby Blue are superior to it’s Sister counterpart. You can really hear the emotion and pain Dave was feeling when recording this song. I’d probably place towards the middle of the album if I had to rank the songs. That being said, I still think it’s a great song.
You and Me: The final track of the album, “You and Me”, I have mixed feelings on. I honestly can’t declare whether or not I like the song. This is why I think it’s a pretty weak album closer (then again, I can’t imagine of the other songs closing the record). I guess all I can do is continue listening to the song, and attempt to create a better opinion. Sorry if that’s a mediocre account of this song, but I honestly have no significant opinions on it, other than it sounds like another Beatles influenced track. You and Me does include a hidden track to close the record, which features another LeRoi Moore based jam. I find it fitting that Moore both opens and closes the record, but unfortunately, the hidden track is nothing more than a small tribute. It’s pretty forgettable in the long run.
Although I may like some tracks more than others, I can safely say that I like every track on this album at least a little. I haven’t been able to say that about any Dave Matthews Band record this decade. Although I still think this album has nothing on the DMB records of the 90’s, I truly believe it is a great record. More importantly, the strong effort put forth by the band on this record is apparent. Another thing that I haven’t seen in any DMB record this decade. Stand Up seemed like a slap in the face to die hard fan base. It was evident that they didn’t care about making a great record, and the resulting product was a disaster. Big Whiskey is just the opposite of this. I can tell that the band was serious about making a great record, and the passion is replicated in the songs. I’m happy to announce that after years of waiting, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King has restored my faith in the musical abilities of the Dave Matthews Band.