album reviews

The Conch
Fatboy Records (2007)

Blending live recordings with studio performances makes perfect sense for a jam band: The group can meld the spontaneous, improvisational feel of a concert with more structured, rehearsed instrumentation. Buffalo's Moe used that strategy on 2003's "Wormwood" and its follow-up, "The Conch," the group's first album of new material in four years.

Nowhere is this tactic more apparent than the center of the 75-minute "Conch," where "Wind It Up" journeys through eight minutes of marimba, guitar riffs and somber vocals until its conclusion, a minute-long repetition of the song's lyrics "Be on my side / I'll be on your side."

As the track concludes with the same pronounced psychedelic keyboard melody with which it began, the next track, "Y Eaux Massa," picks up with a lilting crowd chant of the same lyrics backed by the same keyboard line. It's not clear whether the crowd's singing was impromptu or planned, but the juxtaposition of these two numbers captures the energy of a live performance and the polish of the studio.

Elsewhere, "The Conch" suffers from its length: Quieter songs that would probably work well in a live setting sap energy from the album. "Summer O I" feels like banal singer-songwriter rock, while "The Road's" noodling music detracts from its otherwise compelling twangy vocal interplay. The mellow, meandering "Brittle End" has "Conch" fading out with a whimper rather than the energetic roar of which the group is so obviously capable.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 2 February 2007, Page WE10
.: The Conch on