…With their ever-expanding arsenal of masterfully crafted musical traditions, they prove once more to refuse to be anything less than what they are: one of the most explorative and inexhaustibly creative bands on the planet.
Nearly 150 years after the Civil War ended, America is still both fascinated and haunted by the events that tore the country apart while defining a vision of this nation that in many respects stands to this day. Plenty of popular songs and stories have been written about the war and its impact, but fewer Americans are aware of just how many songs dealing with the conflict and its human consequences emerged between 1861 and 1865. Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War is an ambitious effort to study the songs of the era with fresh eyes and ears; here, 32 artists interpret popular songs from the Civil War years, some in styles that reflect the way they were performed in the 19th century and others appearing in arrangements that are radically contemporary.
Here's the thing. Mike Gordon is the bass player from Phish. Even though he is also a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, filmmaker, and a whole lot of other things, and has several solo albums and other projects under his belt, the frame of reference for Gordon is always going to be Phish, in the same way that whatever Ringo Starr does is always backlit by the fact that he was the drummer for the Beatles. Helping this perception along, though, is Gordon's penchant for mixing the same elements into his solo albums as Phish always did, crafting songs that ride on thick grooves, always shifting and expanding, full of space and turns, and lyrics as whimsical and fleeting as rainbow smoke.
"If you don't vote it's on you, not me," Jim James sings on his second solo album. It's an election-year entreaty geared towards too-pure leftoid lintheads, but the song is no screed, befitting a guy whose music usually turns inward. James floats his humidly ethereal soul mumble over seven minutes of a languid beat, cottony strings and chill organ bleat. Throughout Eternally Even, the My Morning Jacket mainman renders his change gospel with conversational grace, Bill Withers warmth, Sly Stone optimism and Neil Young conviction.
A powerful and legitimately provocative work, hard edged and finely honed, the album is the sound of a truly American Band a Southern American band speaking on matters that matter. DBT made the choice to direct the Way We Live Now head on, employing realism rather than subtext or symbolism to purge its makers own anger, discontent, and frustration with societal disintegration and the urban/rural divide that has partitioned the country for close to a half-century. Fueled by a just spirit of moral indignation and righteous rage, AMERICAN BAND is protest music fit for the stadiums, designed to raise issues and ire as the nation careens towards its most momentous election in a generation.
On their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes never hid that they were creatures of the New South – a band with old-fashioned blues, soul, gospel, and country in their blood but raised on modern rock. On their 2015 follow-up, Sound & Color, they free themselves from the vestiges of the past, let loose, and push themselves further in either direction. This could've resulted in a disjointed record pulling itself in two opposing directions, but the mess of Sound & Color is invigorating, likely because the album uses its title as a creed. Where Boys & Girls sometimes seemed a shade austere – the band took pains to color within the lines, almost as if to convey their good taste – Sound & Color bursts with oversaturated hues so vivid they seem almost tangible.