Sugar Hill Records
No Guts, No Glory, is a fitting title for the eleventh studio release from upstate New York’s improv rock stalwart moe. Having been making music together for nearly a quarter of a century, the quintet had intended to record an acoustic album, having previously recorded a bonus set of songs acoustically for their last studio recording. However, the band set those plans aside and threw caution to the wind but it’s a risk that has paid off.
The recording begins with two cuts that are anything but acoustic. Chuck Garvey’s “Annihilation Blues” is a big, booming power rocker in the punk rock stratum – think Sex Pistols and Ramones. Roaring and hard driving guitars propel this rocker that finds the songs protagonist at his end, contemplating his contribution to this earthly realm. “White Lightning Turpentine” on the other hand, starts off with a hallowed acoustic strain and billowing marimba, then as the verse kicks in, a thundering, heavy bass line drives the tune into a rush of blazing guitar swirls, tempo changes and a give ‘n’ go climax that resembles 1970’s classic rock icons such as Iron Maiden and Cream.
From there, the recording veers into vastly different styles and sounds from previous moe. recordings, and reflects the individual band members eclectic influences. “This I Know” is an Al Schnier-led composition, and one of the most rootsy and Americana laced songs the band has ever recorded. The sweet vocal harmonies are a nice touch, and while it’s an electric song with soaring leads, a lulling strain of acoustic guitar bleeds through. The songs stormy and ominous lyrical tone – mortality, flooding – belies the musical tone however. “Little Miss Cup Half Empty” is almost giddy in tone, with dulcet harmonies and buoyant marimba accents from multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin. Garvey’s wailing solos however lead one to believe this song is wide open for improvisational growth. And on the deluxe version of the recording found on streaming and download services and on vinyl, Schneir’s “Hey O” is a jubilant, short and catchy pop song that clocks in at just 3:22 – clearly an attempt to write for radio.
The full length recording gets its title from Rob Derhak’s “Same Old Story,” a barreling down the road rocker with vibraphone fluctuations highlighting the melody throughout. He spews veiled, vitriolic jibes at politicians for politics as usual, with a stinging chorus – “cutting you down/no guts, no glory/ one swing at a time/no guts, no glory/ It’s the end of the line/no guts, no glory/it’s the same old story.” But “Blond Hair and Blue Eyes” is a creative and fun take on a tom boy with attitude. The Conehead Buddha horn section joins the band here, adding funky, brassy accents and fills and muscle that gives the tune lift. Long time moe.rons will be particularly happy to hear the first studio renditions of moe. originals “Billy Goat” and “Mar da Ma,” the latter found only on the deluxe recordings.
But it is the free spirited ecstasy of the psychedelic middle that really is the highlight of this album. “Silver Sun” finds both Garvey and Schneir swirling dual guitars amongst one another in stunning tribute to Pink Floyd, but also vocally, the song resembles The Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa, with multiple vocal harmonies tumbling about one another. At nearly ten minutes in length, this one certainly promises classic moe. live improvisation. And the funky “Caliphornya” mixes swelling electric and acoustic guitars with resonating vibraphone, creating a hallowed and spooky atmospheric track. And “Runaway Overlude,” heard only as the closer on the deluxe version of the album, quickly builds to an anthemic peak, then drops into a mellow and spacey tempo on the verses and then repeats for the dark and vengeful chorus. It’s a powerful story song that begs to be heard live.
On No Guts, No Glory, the progressive and improvisational quintet veers into uncharted territories for . That said, they also present some of the best songs they’ve written and recorded in more than a decade. The true test of new music from the group may well be the live setting where the new songs will grow and evolve. And there’s plenty of great music in this collection that promises to be live set staples both now and into the future.