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Wednesday, 15 March 2006 00:00

Tea Leaf Green’s mixed bag contains a few nuggets for jam band disciples

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By Chris Cooper

It’s tricky when you find the word “hype” used repeatedly in the glowing fan reviews of a band, as in: “living up to the hype” or “easily surpassing the hype” and so forth.

First, it’s kind of a bad word when it comes to any form of art, especially music. People will rant and rave about some fairly lame stuff if it seems like lots of other folks are doing it.

Second, it indicates there’s quite a bit being said about something, and for what it’s worth, lots of people have some strong feelings about whatever it is that’s being “hyped.”

Third, apparently I’m far enough removed from it all that I’d never even heard the hype. Phew.

The problem is that after the first 30 seconds of “The Garden (Part III),” the opening track on Taught To Be Proud, I was ready to forcibly rip the CD from my computer and fling it from the nearest window. Jam band? Ugh.

Bouncy, semi funky drum track? Check. Rhythmically shaky and slightly off pitch backup vocals? Check! Looming shadows of Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers? Super double check!

How many bands of well meaning college students (with guitars) have beaten this poor little Birkenstock-clad and patchouli-scented donkey-of-a-musical-movement into the dust over the past 15 years? Hmm?

But upon further listening, I started finding the good stuff lurking in the corners. Trevor Garrod’s vocals call up some combination of the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson, Neil Young and the illustrious Paul Simon — all great. His wah-wah Rhodes solo in the title track is groovy and well played. “John Brown” is a moody, little, historical tale peppered with some “20/20 hindsight” observation. After a few spins, one begins to notice that for all the jammy affectations, there’s real potential for good songs. Heck, there ARE good songs on this album. They just get a little lost in the instrumental rambling.

“I’ve Been Seeking” has a nifty little set of lyrics in the last verse: “I don’t believe in fairies/But I’m not so sure about vampires/Building up their empires/Made of blood and bone and fire.”

“Morning Sun” sets up another good groove, which doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for the band. The rhythm section is tight as a, well, drum, I guess. But a strong case for some self-editing, or the services of a good producer, can be found in the last half of the instrumental section of “Ride Together” where you can hear it get lost.

The big sum-up: If you love this kind of stuff, you may very well love these guys. Tea Leaf Green is a good band with a ton of gigs ahead and behind them, and they can only develop and grow as time goes by. Taught To Be Proud, taken as a whole, turns out to be a mixed bag though. Good, even great ideas are scattered through its 54 minutes, but it feels like work sometimes to stay with it long enough to find them. It has potential to be a mighty fine driving-around-on-a-summer-day-with-the-window-rolled-down CD, so I’ll give it another spin in a few months. 3 stars.

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