As a man with a Boognish tattoo on my left forearm and a 12 X 8 inch Boognish decal on the trunk of my hatchback wagon I was absolutely elated to hear a cover of Ween’s “Piss Up a Rope” at the last Open Country Joy show. And since Ween is in the top 5 list of my favorite bands of all time (in fact I am wearing a Ween t-shirt as I write this) it goes without saying that they had won me over within one song. However, it was their original tunes and stellar live sound that made me into a true fan. And though it is true that an entire article could be written on subject of the live shows of Open Country Joy, or OCJ as their die-hard fans refer to them, this is a review of their new album Raw.
The title is a double entendre as it was recorded live at Raw Space in Ellensburg, Washington. To make the title even more appropriate OCJ did not perform multiple takes, made no edits and did no over-dubbing. So it is in fact Raw! And what I can say about this particular live recording that cannot be said about most is that it sounds great! The fact that you forget that you are listening to a live recording throughout the entirety of Raw is a testament to the level of musical skill we are dealing with within each individual member of this self-described â€œCountry-Funkâ€ band.
The album opens with â€œRubyâ€. This tune is sweetened with sweeping guitar strums paired so perfectly with sliding bass notes that you feel like one person playing a science-fictional instrument backed by a drum groove that sounds as if it is tending to the slap-happy guitar notes, letting them stray to the edge of the pocket, then wrangling them back into place at the last millisecond.
The 2nd track , “Seahorse”, fools you into believing that you are experiencing an instrumental tune. The first 7 minutes and 14 seconds are whirlwind of high-energy jazzy funk with the vocals only appearing the last 2 minutesâ€¦yup, this song is just over 9 minutes long! But this song needs to be at least that long. The saxophone and guitar seem to be communicating with each other in a language, we as humans, cannot understand. It appears to be a friendly argument where the drums and bass act as mediators defining the parameters of the debate while offering constructive criticisms.
Track 7, “Scruffy”, which poses the question “Who you callin’ scruffy lookin?” is a fun country song that surprises you with funk jam session half way through that builds and builds to the most rocking moment on the album all to lead you seamlessly back into one more verse and chorus.
The final track on the album, “Tennessee”, is one that I personally connected with lyrically. I moved to the Midwest for school a few years back and while out there I made it to the east coast a couple times. I noticed that while there were beautiful places here and there, nothing was like home. When I heard this track from OCJ it really struck a chord with me because I know that the home they were speaking of was the same place I hung my hat.
There is a level of disappointment expressed with the difference between what was expected of the legend of Nashville and the actual place in the line “Graceland is a dead man’s circus”. While one could look at this as sad or negative, I found beauty in the truthfulness of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that this is my favorite track on the album. The unapologetic honesty in the line “I’ve been to Memphis, there wasn’t much to see. Don’t think I will go down south again” is a representation of what I feel is missing from a lot of lyrics now days.
All in all there is a lot to offer on the latest release from Open Country Joy. Raw is where you will find an extraordinarily rare technical musical talent blended perfectly with the natural ear for a good groove.