The Reverend Tor Band wastes no time steering into familiar territory on its fifth offering, the live collection Live & Off the Beat-n-Track. A jangling rhythm is quickly and easily decorated with verses about a girl "who wore no shoes upon her feet" who is "barefoot dancing while the people stand still," conjuring a stereotypical image of free-flowing, shoeless dancer enthralled in a generic jamband melody. Followed immediately by a relatively unfunky take on "Free Your Mind" — the mid-90s pop hit written by Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, and performed by the sassy soul group En Vogue — it would almost seem that the opening double-shot could serve as both an introduction and an epitaph for a hard working band that actually has chops.
So little original substance found in the opening tracks might be deemed amateurish by fickle ears, despite the Reverend Tor Band's proven mettle on the stage over the years. Guitarist Tor Krautter, keyboardist Scott Guberman, drummer Johnny Chang and bassist Dan Broad came together in western Massachusetts in 1996, and since then, have subscribed to a rugged touring regimen that, while concentrated on New England turf, has exposed them to much of the East Coast. During that time, they have played a slew of shows both by themselves, as well as select dates backing up legendary blues man — and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee — Johnnie Johnson in 1999.
So it was with a patient ear that I continued past the early portion of the disc, focusing my attention based on the band's tenure in the music business. Frankly, I am glad I did. By the third track, "Get Your Own Road," memories of "Bare Foot Betty" and her shoeless shenanigans began to fade, traded instead for an increasingly robust and occasionally complex approach that flows through the end of the album. "Brother Christopher" is where guitarist Tor Krautter's bluesy glide begins to emerge, bubbling over locked-but-loose grooves. The centerpiece of the album is "Leaves," a slow pressure test pushed to multiple crescendos by breezy B-3 swells and six-string tension. This 11 minute workout also allows Krautter to flex his vocal chords, shifting between hushed harmonies to gruff wails. By "Lady of the Night," the quartet's natural ability to weave blues riffing into grandiose song structures is marked in the dramatic interplay within the quartet, emphasizing a patient approach and a shared knowledge of both when to play and when not to play.
Live & Off the Beat-N-Track, despite its false start filled with overplayed imagery and novelty-gone-bad cover, is a fine reflection of a hardworking band with a bluesy style and a penchant for brawny, far-reaching rock and roll songs. With a better balance from beginning to end, the album could serve as a showcase of the band’s true talents. Unfortunately, with such a sordid opening, newer listeners may not have the patience to make it to the meat of the album, where the band uncovers its inherent musical tenacity.