Flying Frog Records 01-005
Ever get the feeling that you’re coming late to the party? Well folks,
that’s how this humble reviewer feels after listening to Deep Banana
Blackout’s latest release. "Feel the Peel" is the band’s third full-length
CD. They’ve been touring incessantly since about 1998, making friends and
fans all across the country, and are planning a trip to Japan in the near
future. This is a band on the move and, yet my friends, I must admit I have
not yet seen them play, nor had I heard a note of their music prior to
receiving this disc. While this may provide me some kind of clean-slate
objectivity, it also opens me up to potentially saying the kind of obvious
or dumb things any neophyte might. Bear with me, hardcore DBB fans, all I
can do is calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.
I had, of course, heard of DBB; their presence on the bill at festivals
everywhere makes it nearly impossible to miss them as I somehow have.
Because of this hard-working ubiquity, their reputation as a funky groove
machine drifted even to me in the great northern wastelands. Unlike most of
the jam bands exploring inner and outer space these days, DBB lays it down
with an almost big-band style. An octet boasting a full horn section,
three-part harmonies, and two percussionists – accompanied on this CD by
four additional musicians – makes a big, fat joyful noise. With crisp
musicianship and tight arrangements, though, no one’s toes ever seem to get
stepped on, and the band swings like a well-oiled sax machine.
The CD’s graphics place our bunch of bananas in a hip cartoon urban setting,
and likewise the CD opens with Raspberry, a gritty cautionary tale of
the perennial urban pitfalls of violence and drugs. Tight horn lines drive
the sound, and the harmonies hint at a new-millennium Earth Wind & Fire
sound. All right, maybe it’s just me. I have been listening to some old EW&F
albums lately. Maybe you haven’t, and won’t hear it that way, but I hear
this great EW&F-style sound in the harmonies, and I like it.
Raspberry segues almost imperceptibly into the next track, The
Hassle. This is one thing I really like about this CD: super-tight track
spacing that helps give a more live-set feel to the music. While they are
not direct segues, the grooves mesh nicely from song to song, unbroken by
the more standard four-second pause.
The Hassle is, alas, another urban lament, this time about the evil
slumlord most city-dwellers have probably had to deal with at one time or
another. This is the first sign of a kind of lyrical weakness that hampers
some of the remaining songs on this CD. I make no apologies. Many people
couldn’t care less what the words are so long as the band is playing well.
These people can play their asses off but there is little of what I can
call the poetic in what they have to say. The lyricism is more prosaic;
singing and storytelling in everyday language works well for upbeat party
songs and bluesy messages of lost love and woe, but less well in any attempt
to – how shall I put it – dance with divinity?
As in the Latin-infused Everybody, the tone here is conversational,
the imagery fairly obvious. You can play with guns, and I’ll just play a
song… Or when the band sings "Happiness will always be, just open up your
mind" in Universal Song; the ideas are great, there’s just nothing
new or engaging about the way they are expressed. The overall impression is
one of your easy, surface-level hippie mentality with little in the way of
poetic archetypal connections to give it roots and wings. Shoot me, I was
spoiled for life by Robert Hunter.
Having gotten that off my chest, I must reassert that DBB consistently lays
down the thick and funky sound with the no-fail groove. I really love the
Latin flavors on Everybody and La Familia. There’s a great
retro synth-bend lead on the former tune, shades of Stevie Wonder. This CD
makes me eager to go see DBB stretch it out live and really groove.
Undoubtedly the minutiae of my living-room criticism would evaporate in the
vibe of a packed house grooving to this swinging eight-piece. I checked out
some set-list archives at the bands website, and was pleased to see some
kick-ass covers like Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke and The Meters’ classic
Cissy Strut sprinkled in the mix. Im sure they would sound fantastic
coming from this outfit, and would mesh well with DBB’s own music for a
great show.
The CD closes with the celebratory Fire It Up, calling us to give it
up, give it our all. Last dance, last chance, fire it up, no explanations
needed. I just love this image they conjure up, too: "So let’s dance and
sing, to the dream machine, make us into lollipops and butterscotch". Sign
me up. You can picture the lights playing out over the crowd, the moving
mass of people shaking it out. After listening to this CD, that’s pretty much
how I imagine a Deep Banana Blackout show must be. I may be late to the
party, but I know a good time when I see one. See you in the aisles.