It’s an awfully wordy title for an album, but there is a story behind the Dave Matthews Band’s choice of moniker. “Big Whiskey” comes from a street performer in New Orleans who was asking for money so he could get some “big whiskey,” and “GrooGrux King” is a nickname for the band’s late sax player LeRoi Moore. It’s the first studio album in over 4 years for the DMB, and features a few lineup changes; Jeff Coffin has taken over saxophone duties, and guitarist Tim Reynolds, a long-time friend of Dave Matthews, does some work as well. Touring member Rashwan Ross is also featured, adding his trumpet to the mix. Keyboardist Butch Taylor is absent, as he left the band in 2008.
After a short saxophone introduction by the late Moore, the album gets rolling with a couple of rocking numbers – Shake Me Like a Monkey has some nice funk-rock grooves and flamboyant horns, and Funny the Way It Is features a catchy rock melody, coupled with some not-so-deep philosophical lyrics like
“Funny the way it is
If you think about it
One kid walks ten miles to school
Another’s droppin’ out.”
Both tracks, while certainly DMB in their overall sound, resonate differently than the band’s past recordings, possibly due to the addition of Reynolds’ guitar work. The ballads Lying in the Hands of God and Baby Blue feature the more familiar (and unfortunately “adult contemporary”) DMB sound, with Matthews’ sweet voice carrying the tunes. Why I Am has a catchy, radio-friendly pop riff. This song could be considered the title track to the album, featuring the lyrics
“We’ll be drinking big whiskey while we dance and sing
And when my story ends it’s gonna end with him
Heaven or hell I’m going there with the GrooGrux King.”
Dive In is another slower number, though it also contains some layered guitar work, and paints a lyrical picture of the effects of global warming. Spaceman has a retro DMB feel to it; rhythm and blues mixed with a little banjo, and Matthews’ strangely melodic vocals. Squirm is the best and most interesting track on the album; some dark melodies and great drum work by Carter Beauford, reminiscent of their masterpiece The Last Stop. Boyd Tinsley’s violin work is also prominently showcased as part of an orchestral layer to the track. Alligator Pie sounds just like its name might suggest – it evokes a swampy, New Orleans-esque southern groove, with Matthews leading the way with his high-energy scat-like vocals and banjo plucking by featured musician Danny Barnes. Seven is a little scattered, but has some funky horn work. Time Bomb segues from slow-tempo verses to a loud, rollicking finish with Matthews’ trademark, impassioned howl, like someone holding back their rage until finally unleashing it upon our eardrums. The upbeat You and Me closes the album, a mid-tempo, melodic song of optimism that actually leads into a hidden track, another short saxophone number by the late Moore.
Where “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” fits into the catalog of DMB albums remains to be seen. It certainly has a unique sound to it – the band has kept their core identity but has added some new touches. Maybe we could dub this new incarnation Dave Matthews Band 2.0? The bottom line is that the album should appeal to both hardcore and casual DMB fans alike.
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King gets 3 out of 5 stars!