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(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/29/2010)
Rock bands tend to be the sum of their parts. The individual members bring their respective influences to bear in the sound of the group. And sometimes the environment contributes, especially if that involves some of the members coming from elsewhere. This week we have a band that fits that description with an eclectic sound from an eclectic city. They are Buxter Hoot'n and their new second CD is called In Another Life.
The five-member band is based in San Francisco and was formed by two brothers who moved to the Bay Area from Indiana, where they had previously been involved with groups. Principal songwriter and lead vocalist Vince Dewald and his bassist brother Jimmy formed the core of the group, which has been together for four years. Perhaps it was the environment of San Francisco that contributed to their sound, or perhaps it was their eclectic tendencies that caused them to moved to San Francisco in the first place to make music, but in any case, the kind of free-wheeling, rootsy sound that goes back to the Grateful Dead and other proto-psychedelic bands forms the basis for Buxter Hoot'n's sound. The rest of the members, guitarist Ben Andrews, who also often plays violin, drummer and backing vocalist Jeremy Shanok, and vocalist and songwriting contributor Melissa Merrill, each provide a discrete and incremental facet to the band's sound. The group's biography also says they live together, which also harkens back to the days of the summer of love.
The result is part roots-rock, with a smattering of country, some hints of old-time folk music with banjo and fiddle, plus some tendencies toward being a jam band. It comes together well in a blend that stays interesting throughout, and has a degree of sincerity and charm that elevates the band beyond the few instances where they do sound conventional.
The CD leads off with one of the its more intriguing tracks, Trying to Get Understood. The melancholy sounding piece evokes the psychedelic rock days, adding in an old-timey-sounding banjo and spacey fiddle. <<>>
A lot more conventional in sound is Nothing to Carry, a roots-rock tune that can be reminiscent of 1970s country-rock, while the lyrics can conjure the hippy era. <<>>
The band takes another change of direction on a piece called Motion, which has a kind of African-influenced 6/8 rhythm while the free-wheeling guitar playing brings to mind the jam band aspects of the San Francisco music scene of four decades ago. <<>>
The group's lyrics can also provide a flashback to the psychedelic era and the quest for freedom that was often a theme. Buxter Hoot'n does a tune called Martial Law, which in its country-rock setting contemplates a loss of freedom for the benefit of security. <<>>
The group goes off in yet another direction on She Don't Care, one of the jam-band tunes. <<>> One of its tangents is a kind of Gypsy jazz fiddle direction, among other twists and turns. <<>>
While most of the songs were written by Vince Dewald, Melissa Merrill contributes two songs, on which she also does lead vocals. One is In a Veil, which is made to be reminiscent of an old-time folk song with the banjo and fiddle. <<>>
Another of the CD's lengthy jam-oriented tracks is Cpt. Long Gone, which is also one its more eclectic, going through a lot of different phases from country-rock to spacey. <<>>
The CD ends with Hand Over My Heart, which works love and death into its lyrics, sounding like an old folksong. <<>>
In Another Life, the new second CD by the San Francisco band Buxter Hoot'n -- whose name is presumably a take-off on the baroque-era composer Buxtehude who influenced Bach -- is a pleasingly eclectic recording that captures the spirit of some of the Bay Area groups of the past with their jam-band tendencies, musical dilettantism, and evocation of the psychedelic-school. While Buxter Hoot'n does not really cover much new musical ground on the CD, they are imaginative in the way they bring together what they do, and one gets the feeling they enjoy mixing things up.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B-minus. The band makes note of the fact that this was an analogue recording, done on the same two-inch tape machine used by the Grateful Dead for an album in the 1980s. But analogue deficiencies become apparent, with many of the instrumental and vocal parts squashed and muddled by over-saturating the tape. The overall volume compression is not too bad, but the sonic clarity suffers.
Jam-band, country-rock group, singer-songwriter outlet, psychedelic retro. They are all facets of Buxter Hoot'n, and who do it all quite commendably.
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