All musicians ultimately function under a single, pressing objective: get listeners to pay attention. Some will accomplish this by appealing to emotions through sensitive ballads, others inspire awe through virtuosic displays, and yet others will try to pique interest by injecting a sense of humor in their music. Berkeley’s Ten Ton Chicken has always opted for the latter, and do so again on their latest release. Covering such urgent social issues as saying the word “midget,” being attracted to your second cousin, and having the God-given right to be the Pope, TTC is sure to garner attention and, likely, dirty looks. But the California quartet doesn’t seem to care, they’re singing ‘F it all,’ or actually, “Efitol,” their fourth studio effort, counting their fabled 1999 debut, De Cocksdorp.
Efitol entices by virtue of a humor that permeates every aspect of the album from its jokey song titles (“You’ve Got the Right to be the Pope”) to lyrics ready-made for a Family Guy episode: “That’s one hell of a midget rolling around, knocking people down” (“The ‘M’ Word”). TTC’s addictive grooves, engrossing leads and poignant poetics almost then strike you by accident, as you just don’t expect them. Indeed while transfixed to their expletive laden tirades, you’re completely caught off guard by the impassioned sax playing of Jamison Smeltz on title-track, “Efitol.” His emotive solo no less then conjures the smoldering sax of Dick Parry on Pink Floyd’s epic “Us and Them,” necessitating some serious reconsideration of this ‘funny’ band.
TTC and its principle songwriter, Gary Morrell, show a clear maturation of abilities throughout this 11 track album. The funk-heavy twists and turns on “Busted Carousel” feel like a superjam between Umphrey’s McGee and Parliament, and pass through an array of emotions while traversing from sugary choruses to teeth-baring solos. The band hardly breaks its stride despite the manic suddenness to it all, and exhibits a refined polish simply not present on prior releases, Just Like in the Old Country (2002) and In Search Of (2003). Morrell’s abbreviated guitar solos throughout Efitol will likely resonant loudly with jamband fans once their explosive potential is fully realized live, and liberated from the confined space of this studio recording.
Augmenting the album is a host of guest artists who give each song certain uniqueness. Bryan Matheson’s spoken passages add a wry wit to tunes, particularly his convincing argument for universal-Popedom. And what would a song reflecting on familial love (“Second Cousin”) be without the banjo elaborations of Larry Geller. Most important, however, is guest lyricist, Kevin Doyle, who provides the album its most profound passages on “Long Walk.” He writes, “I want to go on a long walk, leave behind the faded times, look back to ones that shine, find a place for you in mind.” The weight of Doyle’s lines is palpable, despite the lamentable, falsetto-driven vocal delivery that nearly tramples his graceful poetics. But all is forgiven as Morrell sums it up on closer “On Enders Farm.” He sings, “Nothing really matters we’re having a blast,” and I couldn’t agree more.