Friday, March 29, 2013

An Inside Look at Moonalice: Dave's Way - Part 1

Welcome to the Bootleggers Beware blog!  Over the next 4 weeks, we'll be breaking down and looking at the new Moonalice 8-disc box set Dave's Way, recorded with Grammy winning recording engineer, Dave Way at the helm.  This week, we'll take a look at the first two volumes of the set.

One should never underestimate the value of an experienced producer; and it is evident through these two volumes that having the capable hands and ears of Dave Way in the booth gives the band a unique advantage.  They show a comfort level in the studio that exudes confidence, knowing that they only have to worry about playing; everything else is taken care of. That knowledge gives Moonalice the freedom to explore different styles of music; they've drawn on their considerable background of blues, bluegrass, jam rock and classic rock to put together a diverse running order of songs that can and do appeal to just about anyone.

Moonalice is a band that clearly places significant emphasis on its live recordings, and creating a communal, all-inclusive and easily accessible concert experience.  They've even gone so far as to invent the "Twittercast", which allows fans to stream video of every one of their live shows through nearly every media channel possible. One of the most interesting things about a band that focuses such considerable energy on their live performances, is seeing how they adapt to recording in a studio.  Can they mix concise, lyric driven songs, with focused, extended jams and deliver the same communal concert energy to the listener, without sounding limited by the studio environment?  In the case of Moonalce and Dave's Way, the answer is clearly yes.

Volume 1 clocks in at just over 17 minutes, but this 5-song set is not without its share of highlights.  It leads off with the band's hit 4:20 Somewhere, which has been met with massive success, having been downloaded over 2.5 million times.  That success is hardly a surprise.  The song is catchy and features just enough of the member's Grateful Dead bloodline to reel in the legions of Dead fans the world over.

As the set progresses, you can almost feel the band loosen up, get comfortable, and lock into a concert-worthy groove.  Red Crow features some of the excellent musicianship and chemistry that comes only from musicians who are intimately familiar with each other, highlighted by a brilliant guitar solo by guitarist Pete Sears.  One of the most interesting twists of this volume is without a doubt American Dream Rag.  This acoustic tune harkens back just a bit to the days of the 1960's, when social commentary and music were intertwined, with the lyrics touching on some of today's somewhat sensitive societal issues, but doing so in a light and enjoyable way.

If Volume 1 was the appetizer for Dave's Way, Volume 2 is definitely the beginning of a solid main course.  The band begins to stretch it out here, with 3 of the 6 songs clocking in at over 6-minutes long.  Right out of the gate, the band reaches into it's bag of tricks, rolling out a cheeky, country tune, Foxtrot Uniform. Excellent musicianship and a couple clever acronyms (Which I won't give away here!) will get you listening and engaged in the music immediately, and probably cracking a couple smiles while you're at it.

The most difficult part about listening to this disc is picking a highlight.  Each of the songs includes some kind of shining moment.  The longer songs, Who Can Say and Daylight, offer the perfect opportunity to highlight the rhythm section of John Molo and Roger McNamee.  The key to any band that specializes in instrumental jamming is a solid backing track to allow the guitar and in this case the keyboard to freely and confidently solo away.  Pete Sears and Barry Sless set the tone on both, by reaching back and perfectly complimenting the songs with well crafted solos.

Lyrical brilliance takes center stage on Love to Remake, with Ann McNamee's thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics about repairing and rekindling love.  It offers the perfect transition to the Grateful Dead classic Stella Blue.  Stella is the perfect place to bring this installment of the Dave's Way review series to a close.  Moonalice do a spot-on job on this tune, complete with vocals that you'd swear were Jerry Garcia, and pedal steel guitar playing from Barry Sless that is touching, tasteful and soaringly brilliant throughout the 11-minute closing track.

With three more weeks of steady Moonalice on my listening menu, I can safely set down my silverware and napkin and confidently say that I am thoroughly looking forward to the next six volumes. If the first two are any indication, they will be full of excellent musicianship and a fair share of surprises.

If you're looking for a preview of some of the tracks from this review, you can get your free download of 4:20 Somewhere here.  You can also check out a live version of Red Crow in this week's edition of Bootleggers Beware, streaming here from 10AM to noon EST.  Next week, we'll take a look at Volumes 3 and 4 of Dave's Way, but until then, happy listening!

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