Big Fish Ensemble
State Bird of Big Fish Ensemble
Put It On a Cracker
Fans of eccentric, Atlanta-based quirksters Big Fish Ensemble, have known for a long time the band exists in its own world. Recently, BFE declared statehood, giving their unique cosmos boundaries, an eponymous capitol city, a state motto (“Hey, that’s my bike”), and a State Bird of Big Fish Ensemble CD with twelve new songs.
According to the map provided on the CD’s back cover, BFE’s newly-created governmental unit lies somewhere between Texas, Rhode Island, and Greenland. Such a place, difficult to locate via cartographic means, mirrors BFE’s difficult-to-pin-down musical geography. With a sound located somewhere between klezmer rock, trad-Americana, and early seventies prog rock and jazz pop, BFE plays song-driven rock that defies boundaries.
Utilizing the considerable gifts of violinist Sheila Doyle and bassist-trumpeter Leigh Finlayson, BFE moves beyond three-guitars-and-a-drum sameness, instead generating orchestral-ish sounds. Such instrumental approaches in rock, and the sturm and drang crescendos most frequently imprisoning them, are generally the exclusive domain of closeted jazz commandos and Allan Holdsworth tributists. BFE however, steals back the violin, trumpet, trombone, theremin, viola, and clarinet by placing each in a song-based setting so spare the more-expansive-than-rock instruments sound novel, even human-sized.
All of BFE’s sonic exploration is done in the service of the song. Absent from State Bird is any sign of eclecticism poisoning, the intellectual rocker’s blight necessitating perfectly fine and simple songs be sullied with idiomatic variety introduced for no purpose other than to advertise the diversity of the composer. For BFE, sonic and geographic exploration flows from a highly unusual, truly personal, and deeply felt, aesthetic vision.
Two of State Bird‘s catchier tunes, “Goodbye Mister” and “Normaltown,” evince winsome longing from the band to be part of the bland normalcy which clings inescapably to the rest of us. “Khosid’s Wedding Dance” is a catchy bit of garage klezmer capable of turning all music fans, be they Buddhist, Baptist, or Jain, into kazotski-dancing descendants of Abraham. The faux Tom Waits confessional, “Big Mac Daddy,” is worth a few grins even on the second and third listens. It’s the easy-flowing “June Birthday,” which rounds out the disc and solidifies Big Fish Ensemble’s place as a band possessed of the pop musician’s holy triad: a gift for writing songs, an ear for how they should sound, and the musical chops to perform them. Put It On A Cracker, PO Box 2944, Gainesville, FL 32602