Entrain: All One
by George Graham
(Dolphin Safe Records DS04 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/19/2000)
It's not often that a rock or pop band can combine a good-time party atmosphere with interesting music. The two approaches seem almost diametrically opposite -- creative music is often rather serious, and danceable party music tends to be dumb. Entrain is one group that succeeds in creating music that will keep your feet moving, but they also combine a motley of styles in a distinctive way, and also occasionally have some worthwhile things to say lyrically. Entrain's new, fourth CD is called All One.
Entrain is based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and has been around for about seven years. They consistently win awards for their spirited live shows, have a steadily growing fan base and have been attracting a fair amount of attention in the Northeast. They combine rock, ska, reggae, some New Orleans grooves and some African polyrhythms in their distinctive, and usually upbeat blend, driven by three members who serve as percussionists at various times.
Though at first rather limited in their territory, last year, Entrain began to try to widen their geographic reach, and released on a national level their CD Can U Get It, which was recorded in 1996. The album attracted a fair amount of critical praise, including from this series. Now a year after the first wide release of Can U Get It, Entrain is out with All One, an brand-new effort.
Since Can U Get It, the group has undergone a significant personnel revision, and consequently changed its expansive percussive and horn-laden sound a little. A five-piece group on their last record, Entrain has expanded to a sextet and replaced two of their previous members: their bassist, Judd Fuller, who was also one of the main songwriters, and Rob Loyot, one of the percussionists who also played sax. Remaining with the group are guitarist Brian Alex, drummer Tom Major and trombonist and percussionist Sam Holmstock. New on this CD are bassist Ned Nugent, along with Klem Klimek and Hilary Noble, both of whom serve as percussionists and saxophonists. Nugent has become one of the principal songwriters and also does some lead vocals. So the group's sound has evolved quite a bit since their last release, but it's all for the better. The writing is first-rate, and with Nugent and Alex now dividing the composing duties. The new material may not be quite as stylistically eclectic as before, but the musicianship is solid and the quality of the composing, both lyrically and musically is top-notch. And this CD brings in a little Latin influence here and there, which further enhances the mix.
As before, the group's spirited percussion drives the band with danceable beats, ranging from rumba to blues-influenced. Lyrically, the group examines subjects in more detail than in the past, sometimes singing about environmental concerns, or classic hippie optimism about people loving one another, running to amusing love songs, to a couple of songs that hint at family life.
Things get under way with one of the most political songs on the CD, Letter to the World, by Brian Alex, which makes a plea for environmental conservation, in the context of a tropical danceable beat. <<>>
One of the songs with the Latin influence follows. Off This Train, written and sung by Ned Nugent is the story of a nightmare, left unclear whether it was a dream or not. <<>>
Also by Nugent is one of the more lyrically curious songs, 2 Different Paradigms. The Memphis-soul-influenced setting provides the backdrop for the fun lyrics with a vocabulary not exactly typical for pop songs. <<>>
Another love song with a lyrical twist is Nancy the story of an apparent groupie who pursues one of the band members, who then realizes that he has a serious crush on Nancy, who is now probably gone. <<>>
The group's hippie idealism is highlighted in the title piece All One (We Are All Connected) by Brian Alex. Musically it's an interesting blend of a folky acoustic sound with almost African style percussion. <<>>
Another of the amusing songs is Fresh, whose lyrics are about a grungy band member coming off the road and having a date with a fanatic about cleanliness. With its mixture of a ska beat, a melodic pop sound and its clever lyrics, the track is one of the most downright likable on this fun album. <<>>
One of the more eclectic pieces is Jolly Green Giant, with lyrics reminiscent of the 1960s psychedelic days, and a musical setting highlighting the ska-influenced trombone, and a beat that can run from Caribbean to jazz-influenced. <<>>
With three percussionists among Entrain's ranks, there is a short drum extravaganza called Mondo Surdo. <<>>
The CD ends with another lyrical trip down Paisley Lane. Arm Yourself has as its weapon of choice, love. The psychedelic motif is completed with the what sounds like a sitar. <<>>
Massachusetts-based Entrain continues to grow musically and artistically on their new fourth CD All One. With a revised personnel lineup which has improved the quality of their already strong writing, plus continued excellence in musicianship, the group underscores its position as one of best of the current bands to combine a danceable party groove with interesting writing and arranging. It's a great combination that yields fun music that reveals something new each time one listens.
In terms of sound quality, we'll give the CD an A minus. The mix keeps everything in the right perspective, and despite some use of percussion loops, the sound is unfettered by excessive studio effects. The CD, though, is mixed and mastered to be loud, which takes away some of the dynamics, especially on the percussion.
Entrain's last album Can U Get It was outstanding. Their new CD All One surpasses its predecessor and should help to widen further the audience for what is really one of the best bands of its kind on the scene today.
(c) Copyright 2000 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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