Entrain: Can U Get It
by George Graham
(Dolphin Safe DS02 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 03/31/99)
Sometimes critics who like to find deep and significant art in every piece of music, will look down on bands who go for a good-time party sound. But this week we have a group that combines a spirit of good fun and danceability with multi-layered musical interest and a rather wide-ranging sense of eclecticism. The band is called Entrain, and their newly nationally released CD bears the title Can U Get It.
Entrain is a six-year-old quintet from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, three of whose members play drums or percussion at various times. They have no scruples about casting a wide musical net, snaring such influences as New Orleans second line, ska, reggae, funk, folk-rock, psychedelic-era lyrics about peace and love, and hints of African polyrhythms. Needless say with as many ingredients that come from dance world, the result is a CD that's hard to sit still to. But it's also backed up by solid musicianship, and writing that provides more than just a groove.
Entrain consists of drummer and percussionist Tom Major, guitarist and vocalist Brian Alex, bassist and vocalist Judd Fuller, percussionist and trombonist Sam Holmstock, and saxophonist, percussionist and keyboard man Rob Loyot. They have been touring extensively, and have developed a big following in New England, where they won a Boston Music Award in 1995 for the best live show. Can U Get It was actually recorded in 1996 by the group in their own band house. At the time, they may have released it locally, but Entrain is now going for wider distribution, though still on their own label.
In this kind of music, one rarely expects profound, poetic lyrics, and true to form, there are no great pieces of literature among the words, but occasionally, they will have a thing or two to say, and sometimes it harkens back to the idealism of the 1960s.
The opening track, however, is definitely a song for terpsichorean muse. Dancin' in the Light (Tarbosh) is a curious blend of ska with the prominent trombone, dancehall-reggae style vocals, and almost a marching band beat. <<>>
With a great New Orleans R&B groove is the following track, River Run, a song written by someone outside the band. It's one of the strongest on the album. <<>>
Another appealing and danceable track is A-La-Hey with a bit of an African undercurrent in its rhythm. <<>> And as on several of the tracks, Entrain provides a great and pleasingly short drum break, allowing the multiple percussionists to do their stuff. <<>>
Dealing with the classic songwriting topic of a lost love is a track called Anyway. With its acoustic guitar, there is a hint of folk influence in the midst of the groove that owes some of its inspiration to Memphis R&B. <<>>
Getting into the Bo Diddley beat is great way to make the music danceable, and Entrain do that on a song called Mother Street, which also incorporates a little of the New Orleans groove. <<>>
Lyrically, the most interesting track is Annie, a story about a girl who apparently was considered different or eccentric and who runs away. Except for some extra percussion, the arrangement is in the classic roots rock mode with the addition of guest organist Bruce Martin. <<>>
One of the most eclectic tracks on the CD is North Shore Drift, ostensibly inspired by their Martha's Vineyard shore location. One can hear hints of African and reggae beats, along with bluesy slide guitar, played by another of the guest musicians, Mike Benjamin. <<>>
With lyrics harkening back to the idealistic Sixties, and some stylistic elements doing the same, is the reggae-tinged One Earth. <<>>
The album ends with a suite of two pieces, Mo' Drums, whose title is self explanatory, and the title track, Can U Get It. The former also features a digeridoo in a kind of tribal percussion ritual <<>> before Can U Get It cruises along with a groove reminiscent of Santana's Jingo. <<>>
Entrain is one of those relatively rare groups who combine music imbued with a distinct party atmosphere, with a rather interesting collection of influences, along with first-rate musicianship. The CD Can U Get It will keep you moving and also sneak in some hints of expected styles from World Music to classic Americana. There's hardly a dull moment on the hour-long CD, including some all-percussion passages that are actually fun to listen to.
In terms of production and sound, this was a do-it-yourself effort, produced and recorded by the band back in 1996 in their house facing the sea on Martha's Vineyard. They used a borrowed cranky old 16-track analogue tape machine from 1969, which was apparently giving them grief during the sessions. The result sounds relatively good compared to many CDs, though not quite stellar, sonically. The audio is clean, but somewhat compressed, which reduces the impact of all the percussion some, and there could be a bit more brilliance at the high end. But the percussion sequences do sound good, and everything is about where it should be in the mix.
Listening to their music, one would think that Entrain would be from New Orleans or some other musical melting pot. But calling the upscale New England resort of Martha's Vineyard home did not stop Entrain from combining an infectious groove with musical intelligence to come up with an album that's hard to keep out of your CD player.
(c) Copyright 1999 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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