It’s not what you think.
One look at the line-up of The Contribution – String Cheesers Jason Hann (drums) and Keith Mosely (bass); Jeff Miller (guitar/vocals) and Phil Ferlino (keys/vocals) of New Monsoon; Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth (guitar, vocals, and, of course, violin) – and one might be tempted to say, “Ah … another jamgrass album.” But, ohhhhhh no – there’s all kinds of stuff going on here – and it’s good stuff.
Which Way World finds the members of The Contribution giving life to the muses that roam outside the confines of their regular day jobs. Sure, there are moments of jammish, grassy splendor to be found amongst the album’s 10 cuts, but there are also musical flavors and sound salads that you ain’t gonna find in anyone else’s kitchen, boys and girls. Take Hann and Mosely, for instance: although they have played together in SCI for a few years now, this setting finds Hann as the sole drummer (as opposed to sharing percussion duties with Michael Travis) and the result is a rhythm section full of fresh ideas, yet familiar with itself at the same time. Same with Carbone – Which Way World offers up plenty of his zenfiddle work, but be prepared for out-front Carbone vocals (ranging from country-sweet to rockin’ raunchy), the likes of which Railroad Earth fans have never heard. (Note: search out some old Kings In Disguise for some more TC vox.)
Right off the bat, the album-opening “Come Around” sets a mood that would be easy to label as swampy – but then somehow takes a hard left with no blinker about a minute and a half into things: Hann’s almost-military-sounding drum break gives way to some funky bass/keys/guitar, rolling out the rug for Carbone’s violin to do some serious snake dancing with Miller’s slide guitar. Everybody pushes the groove for a bit, letting the whole thing spiral up and boil over into the bridge. The mists descend again for a minute as the band slinks into the gator-jawed handclaps of the final verse, then slams into one last wild-ass chorus. When the music lurches to a smoking halt, leaving Carbone’s stark cry of “I don’t care!” anybody within earshot with a pulse is going to be panting. It’s quite a trip – and that’s just the first cut.
For a group of highly-talented jamworld musicians who have paid their dues and know their stuff, The Contribution isn’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. “Steady Ride” has the happy-go-lucky-with-holes-in-my-pockets-but-love-in-my-heart feel of a vintage Waterboys tune, while the title track weaves Beatlesque harmonies and strings with a majestic dash of Led Zep. (Actually, the Fab Four vibe drifts in and out of the album like a friendly rock and roll ghost.)
From its off-mike count-in to its “Every Picture Tells A Story”-like rave-up at the end, “Fear of Nothing” is nothing but sweet and crunchy rock and roll, baby (well, with a little George Martinish swirl in the middle). Not to be outdone by the Keefish guitar riffs all around him, Ferlino lets loose with a classic two-fisted barroom piano solo midway through that has you fearing for his safety (not to spoil it for you, but he does make it through unscathed) and the Black Swan Singers join in at the end with vocals right out of the Merry Clayton/Maggie Bell School of Belting It Out. (Speaking of guests, Erik Yates’ banjo adds to the sheer back-porch joyousness of “Year of Jubilee” while Barry Sless’ pedal steel on “Better Days” is simply lovely.)
Again, you could look at the band members’ names and try to label The Contribution’s sound – but your time would be better spent listening. Which Way World is what it sounds like when five musical brothers are free to make their own brand of music.