Tribute to LeRoi Moore "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King"

Monday, March 16, 2009

▷▷ Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King Reviews

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Entertainment Weekly by Leah Greenblatt

Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King Review

For all the immortality it imparts, rock & roll has a way of taking its practitioners before their time. Like the Who, Metallica, and many more before them, the Dave Matthews Band have faced the sudden loss of a founding member: Saxophonist LeRoi Moore died last August from injuries incurred in an ATV accident, midway through the recording of their latest album. His spirit — and his sound — looms large, however, on Big Whiskey. The GrooGrux King of the title references Moore, as does the figure at the center of Whiskey's intricate cover art (drawn by Matthews himself); his sweet, solitary sax flourishes even bookend the album.

Moore's death is also undoubtedly the reason that a group best known for its jammy, freewheeling geniality floats some uncharacteristically heavy vibes here, resulting in several jarring tonal shifts. The tense, mournful ''Time Bomb,'' foreboding ''Squirm,'' and dopey philosophy-lite lead single, ''Funny the Way It Is,'' all reflect — with varying success — on the vagaries of fate, while the swamp-rocky ''Alligator Pie'' puzzlingly alternates grim references to Hurricane Katrina and shout-outs to one of Matthews' young daughters. When the focus turns romantic, and at times even explicitly sexual, the horn-laden ''Shake Me Like a Monkey'' and salacious ''Seven'' play rowdy yin to the tender, intimate yang of ''You and Me'' and ''My Baby Blue.'' Throughout, the spectre of death rarely recedes, but life — embodied by the proto-DMB revelry of ''Why I Am'' — still prevails.


Rolling Stone by David Fricke

Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King Review

Saxophonist LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band was a famously taciturn man. Moore, who died last August at 46 of complications from injuries suffered in an off-road-vehicle accident on his farm in Virginia, never spoke onstage — not at any DMB show I saw, anyway — and declined to be interviewed for stories about the group. When I wrote about the Dave Matthews Band for a Rolling Stone cover story in 2002, Moore avoided even saying hello. A founding member of one of America's best-selling bands, he was also spectacularly successful at minding his own business.

Matthews, who drew the richly detailed artwork for this record, knew a different Moore. On the cover of Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, DMB's seventh studio album, Matthews portrays Moore as a giant laughing head on a Mardi Gras float, leading the delirium on a French Quarter street. And Matthews opens the record with a sparkling evocation: the sound of Moore's piercing alto sax dancing atop drummer Carter Beauford's eruptive rolls and Stefan Lessard's humming bass in the brief instrumental "Grux." A still, stocky presence in concert, like an upright bear in corkscrew dreads, Moore was a nimble, lusty player on his various horns, threading Matthews' vocal melodies and Boyd Tinsley's violin runs with jazzy intuition and funky punctuations.

Moore died early in the sessions for Big Whiskey, before the bulk of the album was made with producer Rob Cavallo in New Orleans last winter. (The album credits do not specify which tracks Moore played on; Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck's Flecktones also plays sax here, and now on the road with DMB as well.) The sudden loss hangs over this record's startling punch like one of that city's humid summer rains. "Still here dancing with the GrooGrux King," Matthews declares on "Why I Am," tenaciously holding on to Moore's memory. More typical, though, are references like the "soldier's last breath" in "Funny the Way It Is" and Matthews' blunt fatalism in "Spaceman": "Doesn't everyone deserve to have the good life?/But it don't always work out." "Squirm" is straight-up doomsday. "Out there, no food, no drink/How many days do you think you'd last?" Matthews sings, then throws down a growling challenge at the end: "If kindness is your king/Then heaven will be yours before you meet your end." It's as if his way of coping with Moore's passing is by contemplating everyone else's.

Matthews also roasts most of his conclusions with hot rusted electric guitars, played by himself and his longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds. It is a new wrinkle for a DMB studio album, and one too long in coming. The group's first big records, such as 1996's Crash and 1998's Before These Crowded Streets, were never as compelling to me as the live shows — particularly the spiraling sax-and-violin ascents propelled by Beauford and Lessard's fusion of funk and African rhythms — mostly because of the airy center left by Matthews' acoustic rhythm guitar. Cavallo, working with DMB for the first time, has brought some of the classic-rock edge of his hit records with Green Day and My Chemical Romance to Matthews' arena-size spin on early-Seventies Traffic, like the power-chord punctuation and slithering-fuzz flourishes behind Matthews' bad-news snarl in "Squirm."

Matthews and the band also bend the rock to their will. The hearty guitars and cackling brass in "Shake Me Like a Monkey" go perfectly with Matthews' blatant comic lust: "I like my coffee with toast and jelly/But I'd rather be licking from your back to your belly." (That he doesn't say exactly how he expects to get from one to the other means you will probably be able to buy this album at Walmart.) "Funny the Way It Is" is a busy, catchy bundle of tension and release, with Tinsley's violin slicing across the band's cut-and-thrust and a grunting riff in the bridge that gets under your skin like another chorus. For much of "Time Bomb," Matthews sings about his anger with grumbling restraint, in a nervous quiet — silver dots of soprano sax, soft, curdling organ, hovering violin. But when he finally blows up, Matthews shreds his voice like Eddie Vedder against a brick wall of Pearl Jam — a startling compact thrill, lasting only a minute and change, that sounds exactly like a guy losing control just when he needs it most.

The most aggressive instrument on "Alligator Pie (Cockadile)" is actually a banjo, played with locomotive relish by Danny Barnes, with Matthews scatting overhead, dodging Tinsley's scathing violin. The song is a prayer for New Orleans, still drowning in need nearly four years after Katrina ("Grace is all I'm asking/When will grace return?"). But when Matthews sings about all that's gone there now, it's hard not to hear Moore's spirit passing by as well: "All the things we wanted/Everything that was sure/Now there is a scar."

Big Whiskey, though, is a lot like a New Orleans funeral parade — mourning and zest balled into big, brawny music. "We'll be drinking big whiskey while we dance and sing," Matthews crows in "Why I Am." "And when my story ends, it's gonna end with him/Heaven or hell/I'm going down with the GrooGrux King." I'm betting on heaven — and that Moore will be quietly waiting for him.


Detroit Free Press

Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King Review

The Dave Matthews Band lost one of its founding members last August when saxophonist LeRoi Moore died of injuries he suffered in an ATV accident, lending special gravity to DMB's new album "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King" (***, out June 2 on RCA). A haunting solo from Moore ("Grux") opens the album, leading into the funky, Prince-influenced "Shake Me Like a Monkey."

Although much of "Big Whiskey" sounds like typical DMB fare -- brash, feel-good, stadium-rock anthems impeccably played -- there are undercurrents of more serious themes, especially the life-and-death scenarios described on "Funny the Way It Is." Also poignant is "Why I Am," where Matthews remembers his friend Moore, a.k.a. the GrooGrux King, with great emotion.

The Dave Matthews Band plays at DTE Energy Music Theatre on July 28.



Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King Review

Jam-band kings bulk up, rock through sadness. The first sound you hear on the new Dave Matthews Band album is the bleat of LeRoi Moore's saxophone -- appropriate for a disc titled in honor of the founding member, who died unexpectedly last August following a freak ATV accident. GrooGrux is harder edged and more bottom heavy than DMB's usual fare, undoubtedly due to the band's decision to work with Green Day and My Chemical Romance producer Rob Cavallo, but probably also a result of the grief suffered by Moore's surviving bandmates. A fond, funky farewell.


Bob Lefsetz

Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King Review

U2 put out a single no one liked. Radio rejected it, and so did casual listeners. Only a small coterie of fans thought it was good. What was the point?

U2 had an impression that we still live in a monoculture, that everybody's paying attention to the game. I GET IT! You want to do something left field, so you can't be pigeonholed. You want to be known for risk-taking. But who's paying attention?

Very few. I know you hate to admit this. But EVERYBODY'S a niche today. There are no mass cultural events other than the Super Bowl. Citizens might like to go to Coachella or Bonnaroo, but most people are just fine missing them. No one's lying about attending the first Coachella, most people don't even know what year it took place.

As for radio and the conventional "Billboard" chart... You saw that nonexistent lineup for the Rick Ross signing. Hysteria exists at most in the hearts of your fans, just play to your fans!

I played the new Dave Matthews Band album, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King". I won't say I hated it, but I found it torture to listen to. It sounded like Dave Matthews, it had all the elements except memorable material.

Then I hit track 7, "Spaceman", and every cut thereafter was really good.


Who did the sequencing? Who picked the single?

A non-fan who hears "Funny The Way", the track they're promoting, is going to laugh. Because it's everything they hate about the DMB, there's no risk. But there's risk in "Squirm", cut 8, and unlike "Get On Your Boots", it's not bad. Someone not enamored of the DMB could hear it and be drawn in.

In other words, what's the purpose of the single? To deliver something radio will play that won't move the public? Top Forty is for tracks, not credible, career artists. So, you deliver something "in-your-face", obvious, radio doesn't play it anyway and everybody but the hard core ignores it.

And if it's truly about the hard core, how about the cut that's going to reach them most, the one that will penetrate them and cement their belief?

"Alligator Pie (Cockadile)", cut 8, starts off like the soundtrack of "Deliverance", it's got no place on terrestrial radio, but it gets your toe tapping more than "Funny The Way".

"Seven", ironically cut 10, has got a lick straight off of "Exile On Main Street". It twists in between repetition of this riff, but the cut's got a creativity closer to the Stones opus, something from side 3, than what's conventionally aired on the radio. "Seven" is what you play when you're tanked up and raging, whether in the frat house in the early morning hours or at the gig.

"Time Bomb" has got that magical "Dreaming Tree" quality, like it was cut by a folkie living in a hut deep in the northern territories of Canada. This is the kind of music that made me a DMB fan.

The quiet feel is replicated in the following, incredibly intimate, "Baby Blue".

In other words, the tracks hitting the conventional DMB notes rubbed me the wrong way. I know that sound, when the band fires on all cylinders and the crowd erupts. But that's about party, fandom comes from the cuts that you play alone, in the middle of the night.

I realize DMB still has a major label contract.

But I think this album should have been an EP. Four, maybe five tracks at most. It would have been more digestible. And I would have focused on the music that REACHES people. The classic albums oftentimes weren't successful out of the box, it was only when the collective universe all found out they were listening and united that the anointment took place.

I advocate releasing YOUR BEST track in advance. Not the one that's most workable in the media. Are DMB fans paying attention to mainstream media?

Bono is playing to the grandstand, he needs worldly acclaim.

Dave Matthews is more humble, more understated, and it's when he makes music befitting his identity that he's most successful.