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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/9/2013)
Perhaps one of the factors that has accounted for the durability of rock is its combination of simplicity with the potential for diversity. Usually it will start out with a fairly straightforward musical premise of energy and directness, but with the basic sound lacking a lot of subtlety, creative musicians over the generations have striven to take rock to lots of different places with musical hybrids including everything from classical to punk influence. There have been scads of groups playing various hyphenated rock styles.
This week we have a fairly straightforward roots rock band who nevertheless manage to include interesting stylistic bits from genres running from reggae to bluegrass in their sound, and come up with an engaging and generally danceable recording. The group is Sam Sliva and the Good, and their new second CD is called ...And the People Say.
Sam Sliva and the Good are based in the musically fertile city of Austin, Texas, though Sliva grew up in Houston. Sliva says he was raised listening to Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, country star George Strait and bluesman John Lee Hooker. A little of all four come out on the new CD, which is marked by good quality writing and arranging. Sliva is a road-warrior musician, touring all over the Gulf Coast and into the Midwest. His bio says that he has racked up over 1000 shows in the past four years. So that direct, live approach is evident throughout the album, with very little done in terms of studio manipulation. The music is pretty much as it would be performed live, though there are some added studio musicians on horns and the like. The music remains straghtforward, despite its interesting mixture of stylistic influences with, for example a reggae beat and a mandolin in the same song. It's dominated by a distinct roots-rock sound and lyrics that are mostly love songs of one sort or another, several of them written from a self-effacing perspective.
The group photo shows four members to the live band, but the CD credits include a lot more than that, including Keith Davis on guitar, Pat Manske on drums, Daniel Rhodes on bass and Michael Ramos on keyboards with the presumed guests including Jason Isbell on guitar, Corby Schaub on mandolin, vocalist Jackson Parten, plus horn players Justin Filor on sax and Keith Fiala on trumpet. They form a tight musical unit, though this is not much of a jam band or group specializing in impressive instrumental soloing. But what they come up with is an agreeable rootsy rock mix with enough extra ingredients that they keep it interesting beyond being stereotypical of the genre.
Leading off is a good track that epitomizes the sound and direction of the record Blind Addiction. The tune blends a reggae beat with a roots-rock sound and soul-influenced horns. It's a kind of roundabout love song. <<>>
The first track to be released as a single from the record is called It Is What It Is, which also is dominated by a straight-ahead roots-rock sound with bits of other influences such a bits of "reggaeisms" and a folky mandolin as part of the sound. <<>>
Surrender is about as close to mainstream rock as the album gets. It's also a song that might cross over to country audiences. It's well-done, but there's not much distinctive about the sound. <<>>
Another song that is not far from the commercial pop world is My Last Goodbye. There's a banjo in there, so it might be considered another candidate for the country scene. Lyrically it's one of the stronger tracks, being a kind of bittersweet breakup song. <<>>
Sliva's blues-rock side comes out on a track called Be Mine, which rather takes a turn toward old-fashioned Southern style rock. <<>>
Though Sliva is the sole composer of the band's original material, the album includes one cover tune, a Ryan Adams song called Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight. The horn section is brought back for this excellent version. <<>>
While most of the album is good-time rock, there is one slow tune that Sliva and company pull off very well. Nothing At All is one of the better compositions on the CD and provides a nice contrast. <<>>
The recording ends with another of its highlights, See You Around (Revised), a song that seems aimed at mainstream pop. But the group achieves an appealing sound without resorting to musical cliches. <<>>
...And the People Say, the new recording by Austin, Texas, based Sam Sliva and the Good is a tasteful album of roots rock that deftly includes some other influences to make for a more interesting mix, with reggae, blues and even a little country influence. The ten songs are likely to appeal to a fairly wide audience. The live-performance nature of the band is apparent on this recording, which imparts a kind of honest sound, avoiding much of the artifice of contemporary pop. The musicianship is competent, though it's not an album for those looking for flashy playing. There are intelligent songs that say some things that have been said many times before in different contexts, but Sliva and company make it sound reasonably fresh lyrically.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The sound is fairly clean and unfettered by stupid studio tricks, with everything just about where it should be in the mix. But of course, in these days when badly over-compressed, cranked-up sound is the norm, this CD is no worse than average.
Eclecticism comes in degrees. Some artists choose to mix styles with wild abandon. Sam Sliva and the Good take the approach of creating good-time, intelligent music that plays well live, and adds some stylistic spice. The result is a worthwhile album of rock that should hold up well over time.
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