Artist/ Band: Dave Matthews Band
Title: Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King
Label: RCA
Year of Release: 2009
Offical Artist/ Band Link

The Review:

1. What is their history? What motivates them?

“The Dave Matthews Band formed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in early 1991, when vocalist/guitarist Dave Matthews decided to put some songs he had written on tape. Instead of simply recording himself with a guitar, he opted to bring in some instrumental help to give his musical ideas more depth. Dave found assistance in drummer Carter Beauford and saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who were both, accomplished jazz musicians in the local Charlottesville music scene. Based on the recommendation of distinguished local jazz guru John D'earth, 16-year-old musical prodigy Stefan Lessard came on board to play bass. Completing the band was keyboard player Peter Griesar, who left the band after a couple of years, as well as the talented and classically trained violinist, Boyd Tinsley.”

“In August of 2008, Dave Matthews Band suffered the devastating loss of brother and founding band member, LeRoi Moore, who passed away on August 19, 2008 from complications stemming from a June ATV accident. While both mourning the loss of LeRoi and trying to celebrate his life, Dave Matthews Band soldiered on, finishing the last few tour dates. After a break, the remaining band members traveled to a New Orleans studio to complete work on the next studio album, Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King, slated to be released on June 2, 2009.” (Dave Matthews, 2009)

2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?

This was the follow album to one of the Dave Matthews Band, DMB, most critically acclaimed albums Stand – Up. Add to the expectations the trauma of the loss of a founding member and the pressure can often break up the strongest of bands. The special digi – pack version of this album includes a video which uncovers the inner trials of coming to terms with creating a new album while you try to work through the untimely death of a founding member. It was a difficult and challenging time for this band. To come out the other side and hear the strong album they created shows their ability to distance and at the same time come to terms with all of the adversity most of us face in bits and pieces scattered over time.

This really was a make or break period for the band, but thankfully they have come through this period firmly committed to carry on and with gusto.

I have been a DMB fan since I heard their first album Under the Table and Dreaming, one of the best albums of the 1990s, IMHO. However, this one has eclipsed even that effort. This is their best work to date and I look forward with eager anticipation a bright future.

Luckily the rest of the world has greeted this new album with as much gusto as the band put into making it. The first week of sales showed Big Whiskey at the top of the Billboard album chart, with over 424,000 units sold. As of this writing, it is also on top of the top selling albums list, which is updated hourly. Dave Matthews was an artist before he became a professional musician. The video in the digi – pack is wonderful and worth the extra cost. It sheds light on this band and the recording process for this, their most accomplished album. Dave’s art covers the entire disc package and real connoisseurs can buy the vinyl package which includes a full book of the artwork. The small CD version of the book does not do justice to the art that Dave prepared for this one.

1. Grux

The first to last solo sax interlude from LeRoi Moore. How do you say goodbye to such and important member of the band while open the album with a celebration of his work? This solo sax is a wonderful tribute to the Groo Grux King, as he liked to be called. The cover art in some ways even immortalizes LeRoi, for fans of the band and his individual work, in its closeness to his likeness. This intro song is a beautiful morning, cup of coffee, beginning to the day…before the action begins to heat up…

2. Shake Me Like a Monkey

This is gotta be the second single. Perfect pop lyric and music that just gets you moving, no matter what your mood. You cannot sit still to this one. Passionate and powerful as well as welcoming and fun. “Come on pretty baby make me lose my mind. Everybody get together gonna make love shine.” “Do you know what it is to feel the light of love inside you, and all the darkness falls away?” “Shake me like a monkey baby…forever I am yours!” The lyrics get allot more detailed and explicit. Yes, Dave has taken away the barriers that he used to put up in his lyric writing. In the video he mentioned that he wanted to express himself more in his lyrics and he does. But unlike many of their most recent albums, this album is more about the band. Dave is front and center, but the instrumentation on this song and the rest of the album shows this band is finally firing on all cylinders again. Unbelievable performance from the horn section and the return of Tim Reynolds on guitar brought a huge emotional and personal lift to the band. The band really enjoys his company and his presence on past albums was missed. This song is dynamite and will be a party favorite throughout the summer

3. Funny the Way it is

The first single off the album. The band has released a neat 80’s style video to accompany it. Wonderful song that covers the dichotomy of the world in which we live. “Lying in the park on a beautiful day, sunshine in the grass and the children play. Siren’s passing, fire engine red, someone’s house is burning down on a day like this?” The randomness of life, a theme throughout this album. Also a Penny Lane kind of moment from the present. You can tell from the beginning that Dave wrote the lyrics, but Tim’s guitar, the violin which opens the song, Carter’s drums and everything else that is happening convince you that this band is back and firing with all guns blazing! Great lyrics that catch the highs and lows of daily life. Nice violin solo in the middle highlighting Boyd Tinsley’s talent. If you have never seen him perform live on stage, you are missing an incredible experience. The ‘Hendrix of the violin’ would sum up my opinion best. One of the best songs since the Under the Table and Dreaming days. Once you hear this song you know the band is back from the dark days of the recent past.

This track was the first track made available as a downloadable single, and it pulled me and I am sure many others in.

4. Lying in the Hands of God

My favorite track off the album and quite possibly my favorite song of the year. So strong and powerful and will be a lasting tribute to the band, this album and Le Roi for years to come. This is Dave Matthews trying to outdo Sting. The song would have fit comfortably on Dream of the Blue Turtles or any of Sting’s jazz solo masterpieces. Just incredible music coupled with strong lyrics of Carpe Diem, live life to its fullest. Make the most of your time here, don’t be afraid to love. “Save your sermons for someone that’s afraid to love. I'll be right here, lying in the hands of God.” Guitars, woodwind, drums, and voice mix for one of the most perfect songs I have heard in a while. “If you never flew why would you, cut the wings off a butterfly? Fly.” After this, the bar is set high and you know you are along for one of the band’s best albums ever. “Fillin' me up, now drain me.” “Skin begins to grow back slowly, faster until I'm choking.” “Really should call my mother, mother.” Yes, getting in touch with feelings after a tragedy. Everything you could want in one song.

5. Why I am

Horn section kicks off this, “where are we now?” song. “The lose and the win of the world.” “Wrong and right, us and them, of the world.” “It's the you and the me of the world.”Only one way out of the world.” “Why I am, still here dancing with the Groo Grux King.” The tribute to Le Roi and the frustration that he is not still here with the band enjoying this fantastic moment in their success. The band firing on all cylinders providing a powerful and yet danceable track.

6. Dive In

One of the three most important and wonderful songs on the album. “I saw a man on the side of the road, with a sign that read 'will work for food'.” “Tried to look busy, 'til the light turned green.” How many of us have done the same thing, wishing to help, but not knowing where to start or if our efforts would help? How can we be assured our efforts will change the world? Something that most civilized people ponder on a regular basis, but get caught up in the concept and are moved to inaction. “I saw a bear on TV and his friends were all drowning, cause their homes were turning to water.” The plight of the polar bears and the environment we are destroying. Again, our caution and inactivity only accelerates the emergency nature of our need to act quickly. The beautiful piano and drum support of Dave’s lyrics really bring home the powerful nature of the song. “Wake up sleepy head I think the sun is a little brighter today.” “Smile and watch the icicles melt away and see the waters rising.” “Summers here to stay, and that sweet summer breeze will blow forever.” “Go down to the shore, kick off your shoes, dive in the empty ocean.” But we are too absorbed with our own lives to help. “One day, do you think we'll wake up in a world on its way to getting better?” “And if so can you tell me how?” Trying to make us aware of what is happening. This theme will be picked up again later. But suffice it to say, that we’ve been warned.

7. Spaceman

“Probably get it wrong much as I get it right.” “But I got it right woman when I caught your eye.” Powerful humility despite all the greatness this band has already achieved. This song is full of that element of humility and an appreciation of the little things in life that make it so enjoyable, each and every day. Very important when you are going through something tragic, to stay grounded. “Doesn't everybody deserve to have the good life?” “But it don't always work out.” “Cry, cry, baby, if we must.” The randomness of life again, interjecting itself into the mix of our day to day activities. Great guitar and band interaction throughout this piece. So much great band interaction weaving in and out throughout this song and most of the album. The band really helps highlight the lyrics Dave is singing

8. Squirm

This one starts out with an eerie reference to a Jim Morrison poem, “Is everybody in, the ceremony is about to begin?” Dave’s version says, “Please find your place. The room grows scarce. Once we’re all inside. The service can begin.” A powerful, driving song. The refrain, “drum beats louder”, complete with drum and support of the powerful horn section, and an almost Kashmir sounding violin section, makes this one of the best songs on the album. “To eliminate exclusion.” “Cut out the differences to feel like we belong…” If we only had the chance to get everyone in the world together in one room, so we could all see how similar we really are and lower our guard and as Dave says, to “eliminate exclusion”. The Jefferson Airplane used, “feed your head”, Dave’s idea, “Open your head, you sweet primitive.”

9. Alligator Pie

Must be at least one song dedicated to the place that the band wrote and put together most of the album. This one is dedicated to New Orleans and the Delta Blues. Just incredible. Dave has always has an incredible knack of wrappin’ well. Not in a hip hop way, but a bluesy, deep southern US way. Just incredible vocal workout. He also dedicates this one to his daughters Stella and Grace, “Daddy when you gonna put me in a song?” I love the blues, so this one is almost as perfect as you can get.

Then there is the reference to the neglect of New Orleans during the Katrina disaster. “Floating in the lower nine.” “Waiting for a boat to throw me a line.” “Tell me when help is gonna come.”

10. Seven A fun love song for all the couples in the world. “Mama told me boy.” “Someday that girl’s gonna take your mind.” Another fun vocal workout supported by great music. A breather before going deep.

11. Time Bomb

One the deepest songs on the album. This one can be taken many ways. If you know the history of the band, you know that Dave’s sister was tragically murdered by her husband. “I'm a ticking time bomb.” “Waiting to blow my top.” “No one would ever know.” “Not until I blew up.” Tough lyrics to write and sing, and Dave sings with more angst then I have ever heard before. How to respond to tragedy? Let it eat you away, or fight to fly again? We get the answer quickly in this line: “When everything starts to fall.” “So fast that it terrifies you.” “When will you hit the wall?” “Are you gonna learn to fly?” “No one would believe it.””Except for all the people.” “Watching as you fly away.” You cannot go through as much as this band has been through recently without writing about it. They do it in such a strong and determined way. The music supporting these lyrics is so direct and strong. No question one of their most direct and powerful lyrical performances to date.

12. Baby Blue

After the last song, you need a breather. This one starts out quietly with acoustic guitar and violin. This is the lasting tribute to all the people they have lost, including LeRoi and written with a tear in the eye and Dave’s voice almost cracking throughout. “Goodbye my love, into your blue, blue eyes, your blue, blue world, you're my baby blue.” Sad, but a wonderful and moving tribute to anyone who has passed on.

13. You & Me

Not to leave everyone on a sad note, Dave and the band add this upward looking inspirational song. “Wanna pack your bags, something small, take what you need and we disappear.” “Without a trace we'll be gone, gone.” “We gonna take a boat to the end of the world.” “All the way to the end of the world.” “Oh, and when the kids are old enough.” “We're gonna teach them to fly.” Lyrics are so powerful throughout this album, but these final lyrics really lift the listener up after all the journeys covered on this expansive album. Another of Le Roi’s sax interludes ends the album, fittingly.

3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?

Many messages are covered throughout this album, reflecting the multitude of life events that have occurred since the band’s last album. It is up, it is down, but in the end it really reflects the need to go on despite the random world and its positive and negative aspects. It is a tough life, but we can all find some pleasure and satisfaction, even in the little things we sometimes overlook regularly. Sometimes tragedy can bring you to the stark realities of life and then allow you to appreciate the things that have been passing you by without notice.

4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?

This album definitely adds a huge volume of powerful songs to the DMB catalog of songs. More incredible songs to play live. There are too many to list here that I would like to see done live. Luckily the band actually performed a free live concert shortly after the release of the album and I was able to see some of these songs live.

DMB’s music does not fit any one genre. Many people think it’s pop, others call it alternative, some rock, and I think some of it is progressive in its storytelling and innovative instrumentation and improvisation. The jam sessions I have seen live, for me would fit an art rock or new progressive, stage well.

5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?

Absolutely. The power of this album lives beyond many listens and some of the less powerful songs grow on you with time. The spirit and message of the album also is something that can fit many moods and stages of life.

Rating: 10/10 – The perfect album after a long wait. This one ranks high in a catalog filled with albums that are full of great songs. They keep the high standards, while innovating and bringing back the power of the full band in support of Dave’s voice and lyrics. The last couple of albums did seem to be vehicle’s for Dave’s talent and lyrical expression. This time the full band shows off its many talents and kicks their performance up a notch as they move into their third decade as a band!

Reviewed by Prof on June 23rd, 2009


01. Grux
02. Shake Me Like A Monkey
03. Funny The Way It Is
04. Lying In The Hands Of God
05. Why I Am
06. Dive In
07. Spaceman
08. Squirm
09. Alligator Pie
10. Seven
11. Time Bomb
12. Baby Blue
13. You & Me

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