The Dave Matthews Band’s seventh studio outing, ‘Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King’, smoulders into life with an impassioned sax solo — only fitting, really, for an album dedicated to the man playing with such fire in his belly.
Yes, the memory of Leroi Moore, who died suddenly last year, looms large over the album named after him. Quite appropriately then it’s a focused, no-nonsense affair — like the man himself.
With Green Day producer Rob Cavallo at the helm and guest guitarist Tim Reynolds returning for the first time since 1998’s ‘Before These Crowded Streets’, it’s easily their best album this decade.
Free of the generic mainstream rock of ‘Everyday’ and R&B interference that left ‘Stand Up’ sounding more like ‘Sit Down’, Matthews and his band are free to get on with the freeform jams they so skilfully focus into four-minute flameouts.
And, as Matthews’ hand-drawn cover art indicates, this tribute to the Groo Grux King is more Mardi Gras-style celebration than morbid memorial. ‘Shake Me Like A Monkey’ — bringing on the big brass breakouts — is as wild as its name suggests; carefree ‘Funny The Way It Is’ blends effortless guitar riff and irresistible vocal melody; the oppressive, Eastern-flavoured ‘Squirm’ could more accurately be called ‘Grind’; ‘Why I Am’, with the immortal line “still here dancing with the Groo Grux King”, urges “don’t cry, don’t cry baby” over the wild in the streets soundtrack to a New Orleans piss up; and the grinning ‘Alligator Pie’ adds bluegrass flavours to the send-off celebrations.
Of course other emotions break through — on a good DMB album they always do. Here ‘Lying In The Hands Of God’, punctuated by Moore’s alto-sax, brings the tenderness; the ticking ‘Time Bomb’ quite literally explodes with frantic despair; the acoustic guitar and strings ‘Baby Blue’ exposes every crack in Matthews’ fractured vocal; and, despite calling out our stand-and-watch attitude to the planet’s meltdown, ‘Dive In’ has a quiet optimism that keeps echoing through ‘Big Whiskey And The Groo Grux King’.
“You and me together/ We can do anything,” Matthews sings delicately on the album’s last song proper. It’s directed at his wife but the band leader could just as well be singing to the fallen Moore.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.