Albums are centerpieces of artistic expression that bands can spend years working on. They craft a selection of songs that tells a story or captures a moment in time in great detail when done with capable hands. But what do you do with the songs that end up on the cutting room floor, left out of the final draft?
Well, according to bands Lettuce and Chris Robinson Brotherhood you make them available to the masses. This last week saw the two bands take leftovers from albums released earlier in the year and serve them up hot for fans. Lettuce’s “Crush” cemented the band’s reputation as one of the most innovative funk bands of its generation with a talent to blend its myriad influences into forward-thinking jams. Similarly, CRB released “Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel” this summer and continued to tread down the trodden trails of psychedelic country, blues and rock first traveled by the Grateful Dead. The EPs from both bands, Lettuce’s “Mt. Crushmore” and CRB’s “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now,” offer a slightly deeper look into the direction of each band, it is just a matter of whether or not you are willing to explore.
Lettuce “Mt. Crushmore”
The name says it all. Lettuce invites you to climb its mountain of funk to peer from the highs of “Mt. Crushmore” on its new EP. Intimidating trills from Ryan Zoidis (saxophone) and Eric Bloom (trumpet) crack open the title track in spectacular fashion. The band’s charged rhythm swirls in and out of itself like storms on the mountain’s summit and a haunting choir adds an ominous tone to the song. It is a thunderous track that dominates your senses and rattles you to your marrow.
As you make your way through the rest of the EP’s tracks you get the sense that it must have been a tough process to track and sequence “Crush.” The new release pulls right from those sessions and the songs could very well interchange with some of the album’s tracks without changing the feel or integrity at all. “116th Street” is a straight-shooting funk number that exudes the timeless coolness of cruising through the five boroughs of New York in a 1972 Cadillac. The smoothness of Adam Smirnoff’s guitar contrasts nicely with the flashy pizzaz of the The Shady Horns and the song cruises by with strength and finesse.
Then you listen to “Ransome” and are again reminded of Lettuce’s insatiable knack for constructing grooves with a classic funk foundation and cutting-edge aesthetics. Keyboardist Neal Evans and bassist Erick Coomes tag-team a sticky rhythm while hazy ripples of horns and guitars bounce off each other like waves in a neon tidepool. It is all good stuff, though there is nothing definitive that classifies “Mt. Crushmore” as a unique offering separate of “Crush.” But if you need some more green in your musical diet, this should keep you satisfied.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now”
One thing Chris Robinson Brotherhood is good at is creating an inviting atmosphere in its songs. The band’s soulful blend of frayed country and enchanting blues and rock with blotter paper leanings has produced a rabid following predicated on CRB’s rambling live show. For “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now” the band actually culled songs from its live repertoire to bring into the studio and give them a nice, clean sheen.
To the legions of fans who follow CRB and other jam giants like Phish and The Grateful Dead, studio cuts usually take a backseat to their stretched out live brethren. But Robinson and company have used the studio to brighten the colors and polish the arrangements of these tracks so that they might shine in a different light. The first offering “New Cannonball Rag” has been a live staple for a while and it has the same cosmic juice pumping through its veins on the recorded version as it does on stage. A buzzing stroll through roots-rock territory, the song hovers perfectly between your ears as worbly organ and tinsled guitar flash around you like psychedelic tracers.
“Roan Country Banjo” plays on similar sensibilities, with Robinson imploring others to go “find their meadow” and drift away like thoughts on clouds passing by overhead on the lofty melody. It’s a whimsical affair that continues to delight after each listen.
Two songs that really benefit from some extra TLC in the studio are “Shadow Cosmos” and “Sweet Sweet Lullaby.” The former is a pristine, cosmic ballad with piano twinkling off pedal steel guitar like the Milky Way, the latter a cowboy-country lullaby as tender as the crackling campfire you would sing it around. In a a live setting these songs can be overwhelmed by a boisterous crowd but they retain their intimacy on the EP.
All in all “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home Now” bodes a different take on established CRB tunes when you don’t want to listen to a bootlegged copy.