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Hey, I Love a Room Full of Hippies As Much as the Next Guy

October 31, 2009

Little known secret about yours truly:  back in the Nineties I was something of a jam band aficionado.  Some folks might be ashamed to admit that, but not me.  It started with seeing Blues Traveler live after the release of Travelers and Thieves and continued through hanging with Dave Matthews in Switzerland right before the RCA release of Under the Table and Dreaming.  In fact, I was so blinded by the jam band craze that I bought Rusted Root’s second album (props to anyone who can name it without looking it up).  As the 2000’s progressed, historical revisionism took over and jam bands went the way of disco and the bossa nova.  But this week, I was able to time travel just a little bit thanks to cyberspace and relive some of the jam band magic.

The vehicle for my long, strange trip was L.A. conglomerate Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  Yesterday I was catching up on some podcasts and happened across the Magnetic Zeros on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts”.  I’ve had their debut album Up from Below since its release this summer and while it’s been a pleasant listen it hasn’t been one of my favorites.  I found their musical plays on such subject matter as Willy Wonka and Magical Mystery Tour a bit unimaginative and felt like their brand of folk-pop was being done better by a ton of other bands.  But when I watched the group perform, I have to admit I was mesmerized.  First off, there’s like thirty of them, none of whom are named Edward Sharpe to the best of my knowledge.  My first thought upon seeing them crammed into Bob Boilen’s office was “Good Lord, it’s a room full of hippies!”  These folks look like a family of gypsies in wrinkled, multi-colored outfits that look like they’re straight outta Woodstock.  But seeing the group in action breathed new life into some of the ho-hum songs from their album.  All of the sudden, the whistling on “Home” and the Oompa Loompa chant in “Janglin” sounded less hokey and a lot more fun.  So much so that I’m tempted to drag out my tie-dyed boxers and go check them out when they hit Nashville in November. 

Another band that’s taken me back to the jam band days is Breakestra, who also hails from the City of Angels.  Hearing any band described as a “hip-hop orchestra” is enough to pique my interest, so I picked up their recent joint Dusk Till Dawn this week.  Released on the always fabulous Strut records, Breakestra comes closer than any band not named the Dap Kings or led by Femi Kuti to creating the music that I hear in my head when the world around me is silent.  Their sound is basically hard core funk with a lot of layers, including jazz, classical, and hip-hop.  Band leader Miles Tackett has put together an amazing group of musicians that can give you Memphis soul on one song and free-form jazz on the next but still have an identifiable connection between the two.  Bringing in such oddities as a violin on one track doesn’t even throw off the groove, rather it adds a texture that completely engages you as a listener by making you wonder how in the world this actually works.  Toss in some rhymes, a flute, and some phenomenal rhythm guitar work and you’ve got the funk version of the Wall of Sound.  In short, this release will test your soul:  if you’ve got some you’ll love it, if you don’t go listen to Barry Manilow. 

If you’re interested in some free samples of Breakestra’s music, try out their Myspace page.  Also, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have some songs streaming on their Myspace locale.  As always, you can check out some tracks by these and other featured artists on the Brown Tweed’s Last.fm page as well.  Until next time, peace, love and soul.

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