One of the biggest dilemmas that a “jam band” faces is making a living. Most fans of the genre are attracted to the very aspects of the music that make it a tough sell to the mainstream: long instrumental sections, atonality, odd time signatures, diverse influences and of course, improvisation. These same fans can be selfish in wanting “their” bands to evolve musically, but never grow out of the intimate venues in which they started.
While moe. has outgrown Broadway Joe’s (a Buffalo, NY bar which served as their initial home venue) don’t look for them to “sell-out” any time soon. On their latest studio effort, cleverly entitled Tin Cans and Car Tires, they find a happy medium between commercial and obscure. There is a tiny gray area where music can be catchy and fun without being cheesy. Well, I for one am lactose intolerant when it comes to music and I really dig this album. Upon first hearing it, I was a bit skeptical. However, after listening a few more times, I was hooked. After all, the band has stayed true to its roots while also adding new flavor to their sound. The album begins with Bassist, Rob Derhak laughing just one measure into “Stranger than Fiction” , and ends with guitarist, Al Schnier saying, “…and I’m weird”. Gotta love a band that can maintain its sense of humor even with a major record deal.
Musically, this album is much more diverse than previous moe. releases. There is an eclectic mix of rock, funk, and country. “Spaz Medicine” features the Yolk horn section weaving in and out of 6/8 time signatures and straight-ahead 4/4 funk before leading into a middle-eastern climax. “Nebraska” stood out as an early favorite, with its “super thick chunks of broken life and reality”. I still can’t get the song and the swinging talk-box guitar solo out of my head. Next comes “Head” which sounds like “Seattle Grunge” until the textural jam section redeems it. “Hi and Lo” features some beautiful, watery guitar tones. It flows nicely and helps maintain an overall continuity to the album. One of my other favorites, “Plane Crash”, demonstrates the band’s appreciation for the Beatles and there’s no shame in that. This song is truly epic and if not for a certain four-letter word and its nearly nine-minute duration, it might receive some radio airplay. “Letter Home”, in contrast, is a ballady country tune with some nice acoustic guitar. Al makes reference to the Furthur Tour with the line, “Dog days of summer, further on down the road, all the kids keep on dancin’ long after the show.” “Big World” is a slow, funky, “artist formerly known as Prince-ish”, groove with falsetto vocals. Listen to this song through headphones. The guitar is panned from left to right and you can feel it pulse through your head, which is always fun. “Again and Again” and “It” are mellow, yet really well-crafted songs. I particularly like the self-demonstrative line in “It”; “sometimes you’ll find you can rhyme anything with anyone”.
I absolutely love “Happy Hour Hero”. It’s one of those rare songs that just grabs you right away. It’s upbeat and melodic and has a Steely Dan sort of feel. This song will put you in a good mood. This is the song you put on at the beginning of a party. This is the song you sing along to in the car, especially the line, “forget about the pretty girl, a Saranac will do just fine” (personally I enjoy both). The song makes you smile. Sax, piano and great guitar make this song a gem. Finally, “Queen of the Rodeo” a traditional country tune with some funny lyrics, rounds out the album nicely.
It is refreshing to hear a solid studio album from a band that has made a name for itself in the live setting. Tin Cans and Car Tires is proof that it is possible to produce great music on a major label without alienating your fan- base to attract the masses. Even I like the album. (and I’m weird).