Big Whiskey & The Groo Grux King
The arc of any successful band curves up, peaks then drops; the real trick is in finding the momentum for a new upward swing. Unfortunately for the Dave Matthews Band, that inspiration came at the cost of losing a founding member. LeRoi Moore, who helped create the band’s essential sound with his signature sax solos, died last summer following an ATV accident on his Virginia farm. His death came during a break from recording and at a time when the band was struggling with internal problems. Moore’s loss forced the surviving members to confront their issues and decide whether to continue on, pushing to the next level.
Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King is, in part, a tribute to Leroi Moore but is also the band’s concerted push back at mediocrity and lethargy. Moore’s ghost permeates the proceedings, beginning with the opening instrumental “Grux;” it’s a slinky spectral minute of sax improvisation and one of several found pieces the band searched out from Moore’s final recordings. It leads into the rousing “Shake Me Like a Monkey” a sort of re-awakening for the band. This meaty piece of rock features propulsive drumming, thumping bass and Matthew’s primal howl vocals. It’s the kind of energy that’s been missing from the band’s last couple of releases. Carter Beauford's drumming sets the tempo and he relentlessly muscles through tracks like “Alligator Pie” and “Why I Am.” His rhythms infuse the rest of the band with an urgency that kicks the music into high gear, especially bassist Stefan Lessard who does a great job in complementing Beauford’s pounding beat. Producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) shepherded the project and surely adds to the album’s edgier sound.
The Dave Matthew’s Band members have roots in both jazz and classical music and that has contributed to the strength of the band’s range of material. Tinsley Boyd’s violin is less prevalent on Big Whiskey and tends more towards a country feel than jazz and competes with banjo on “Alligator Pie.” His old sound is most notable on the complex and very catchy single “Funny the Way It Is.” This song, as well as “Lying in the Hands of God” features Matthews at his most contemplative. It’s clear that Moore’s death has brought a new perspective to his world view. “You & Me" is Matthews offering for his wife and might be one of the sweetest things he’s written. Wait to the very end of the song, when it seems it has ended, for a short instrumental interlude from LeRoi. It’s a 30 second loop but it is appropriate that the album ends so abruptly with his horn.
The band recorded much of Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King in New Orleans which might explain why it sounds more like a celebratory march for LeRoi Moore than a somber elegy. The cover art features a grinning rendering of LeRoi on a horse drawn carriage and the title partially comes from a nick name the band lovingly laid on him. Rest in peace, LeRoi – long live the Dave Matthews Band.