Review Summary: As we often say in music, Dave Matthews Band needed a comeback album. In the case of “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,” this could very well have been it.
In the 1990's, Dave Matthews Band was able to create albums in which appealed to both their fans and the critics. Following the release of “Before These Crowded Streets” in 1998, Dave Matthews Band has been unable to create such an album. Both “Everyday” and “Stand Up” were disappointing and unbearably average, forcing fans to question whether or not Dave Matthews Band would return to greatness. 2002 release “Busted Stuff” was unmistakably the band’s best effort of the decade, but still seemed to be lacking whatever it was that made the 90’s records so great. As we often say in music, Dave Matthews Band needed a comeback album. In the case of “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,” this could very well have been it.
Tragedy is never easy for a band to take. When it’s the death of a fellow member, more than just the music is affected. In June of 2008, saxophonist Leroi Moore was involved in an ATV accident that ultimately led to his death in August. “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” is very much a tribute to an immensely talented musician, meant to both glorify his legacy and to mourn his death. The band had recorded a great deal of material with Leroi already for the album, and his sax is featured throughout. Opener Grux
is indicative of Leroi’s ability, and is an indication that this is his
album. Lying in the Hands of God
follows this principle as well, for it is the first of several tracks that directly involve Leroi. This melodic and sentimental ballad is elevated by smooth and jazzy sax and some tremendous acoustic guitar work by Tim Reynolds. This laid-back and reflective feel is complemented beautifully by Dave’s lyrics “Save your sermons for someone thats afraid to love. I'll be right here, lying in the hands of God.” If this isn’t enough, Reynolds adds an absolutely spectacular acoustic guitar solo, displaying that he too can play.
“Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” delivers a much more “rocking” feel than we’re used to hearing with Dave Matthews Band, Why I Am
are illustrations of this. Why I Am
, a favorite of Leroi’s while recording, features fiery electric leads and outstanding saxophone work. Seven
works on similar means with a catchy rock riff, but is not as effective due to repetition. Still, Dave Matthews Band shows that they are not afraid to attempt different styles, and the result here is a great deal of diversity. The band even goes for a southern feel with Alligator Pie
, which may be the record’s most fun track.
This would not be a Dave Matthews Band album without your classic sex song, and Shake Me Like a Monkey
proves to be one of the band’s best. A hard electric guitar and bass riff and soaring trumpets provide this track with a funky ambiance, and Dave’s lyrics are catchy and humorous as ever, “So good just wanna eat you up, nothing like the real thing, lick your sticky fingers boy and sing for your dinner sing.” As intricately developed as Shake Me Like a Monkey
is, the band doesn’t fail when the tracks return to sincerity. Time Bomb
is a slow burner in which highlights a powerful climax and a rare scream from Dave. A destructive religious song, Time Bomb
is subject to lyrics such as “If Martians fell from the sky, what would that do to God" Would we put the weapon down, or aim it up at the sky"” Squirm
establishes that it is equally as dark, with “Your dreams won’t let you fly, don't be dead before you die. Hunger, till fed, give love instead, when it gets inside, watch the dead man squirm.” The most original sounding track on the album, Squirm
utilizes eerie instrumentation and continues to build throughout.
From the beautiful ballad My Baby Blue
to ironic single Funny the Way it Is
, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” is a solid collection of tracks that Leroi would have been extremely proud of. Not to say that this 2009 release entirely lives up to “Crash” or “Before These Crowded Streets,” but offers a new direction for a band that has not had a satisfying studio release in quite some time. Dave Matthews Band will continue to tear up their live performances, and a number of these will be welcome additions to the stage.
Shake Me Like a Monkey
Lying in the Hands of God