Dave Matthews Band
Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King
I have been a Dave Matthews Band fan since I first heard “Ants Marching” when I was in high school. I’d fall asleep listening to Under the Table and Dreaming — it was like nothing else I had ever heard. I bought Crash and Before These Crowded Streets the days that they were released and loved both of them. I still do.
And then Glen Ballard happened. Everyday was good, but not as good as I had expected. Their last two releases, Busted Stuff and Stand Up, had the band meandering in their comfort zone and creating what I consider to be largely forgettable albums. Their latest, Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King, showcases a revitalized band while paying tribute to their founding member, saxophonist Leroi Moore, who died in a skiing accident while they were recording this album.
The album opens with “Grux,” which is nothing more than a killer jazzy sax solo, which flows right into the brass-infused “Shake Me Like a Monkey.” With Matthews singing the chorus, “Lovely baby, lovely baby/ shake me like a monkey baby/ And forever I’m yours” straight from his soul. DMB hasn’t had this much rock and roll since “Halloween” from Before These Crowded Streets.
Track two then flows right into the stellar first single “Funny the Way it is,” another uncharacteristically up-tempo number that examines various dichotomies like life and death, “One kid walks 10 miles to school/ Another’s dropping out,” and many other opposites.
It gets toned down afterward with the beautiful and sax-laden “Lying in the Hands of God” and the poppy “Why I Am.”
They don’t forget their comfort zone however on “Dive In,” which is a lighter version of “Everyday.” But that’s it for the comfort. “Squirm” drops a heavier beat with Carter Beauford’s syncopated rhythm leading the charge and Matthews starting this verse with his quiet, fragile whisper morphing into someone who is possessed, “I’m not a king/ no not a hero/ not a fool/ I’m not perfect/ I’m flesh and bone/ And I’m exactly what you need.” That leads to “Alligator Pie” which sounds like it was pilfered from the Deep South.
They save the best for the end with the yin-yang tandem of “Time Bomb” and “Baby Blue.” “Time Bomb” is Matthews at his throat-shredding best screaming the chorus, “Baby when I get home/ I wanna believe in Jesus/ Hammer in the final nail/ And help me pick up the pieces.” “Baby Blue” is a beautiful lullaby that ends with Matthews softly singing “You and Me Forever.”
Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King is quintessential Dave Matthews Band. It is a band that is remembering how to utilize the talents of all its members, while at the same time giving saxophonist Leroi Moore a well-deserved farewell. The lyrics are as sharp and poignant as ever. The music is more moving and diverse than it has ever been. DMB took a gamble on being bold and ditching the musical confines that were starting to compartmentalize the group — and that is why this is the best album of their storied career and why it is nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.