…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 the hyped-up ska of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is your thing, you're sure to also dig the Japanese group Kemuri. Their debut full-length, Little Plaything, is a supercharged explosion of fast drumming, horn bursts, and guitar playing that alternates equally between distorted metal and clean ska. Their lyrics deal with the usual alterna-ska themes that the Bosstones, Sublime, etc., have touched upon, such as working hard at a nowhere job ("Workin' Dayz") and keeping a P.M.A. – which means positive mental attitude – throughout life's trials and tribulations (the opening "New Generation"). The album does successfully convey the party-out-of-control atmosphere of today's ska movement, as evidenced on "Rainy Saturday," "Knockin' on the Door," and "Prayer," while "Don't Know" sounds quite a bit like early Fishbone. But not all of Little Plaything hits the mark, especially the annoyingly clichéd introduction to the above-mentioned track "Workin' Dayz," which features a Valley Girl doing her usual trademark spiel. But at the very least, Kemuri's Little Plaything is equal to the majority of the ska-laced alternative that ruled MTV and the radio airwaves in 1997.