By John Mikeska
Photos by Max Stewart (from 4/20/17 @ Stubb’s Austin)
On the whole, Big Something’s latest album, Tumbleweed, exudes the blood, sweat and tears of a hard-fought/well-won creative project. Accomplished in translating the live-experience of a Big Something show into a studio setting that displays a much attended to, thought-out album.
Tumbleweed evokes a unique presence and exceptional lyrical depth amidst all the elements of their trademark live-experience in a hard-hitting studio format. Featuring the crafty production chops of tour-tested road warriors expressing themselves at their highest level, the band respectfully pays homage to many influences while putting together a sound that remains entirely Big Something.
The opener meanders into awareness by means of all the elements we’ve come to know and love from Big Something. Lead guitarist, Jesse Hensley, makes our acquaintance with a series of return bends that pull you in by the collar, constructing creative trills around the original, bendy motif.
Jesse’s solo work gets you all stirred up inside. He’s able to compose and deconstruct musical ideas with a patient ferocity that I’ve begun to associate with his style over the years. The slippery awesomeness of Josh Kagel’s synth-solo slides right into the pocket, through and through to its progressive potentiality.
SONG FOR US
A tune that wraps you up in the musical embrace that is the trademark L-O-V-E, Big Something has for their fans. This endearing tune jumps off with a delightful melody the moves into joyfully spacious explorations.
The dynamic, reggae beat/rhythm-section lays it down with an evolving groove. Interesting to experience the fraternal, groove-based relationship between drum & bass on this record. So much of the Big Something sound has to do with the juxtaposition of heavy and light groove sensibilities that have the opportunity to evolve into the twists and turns of a live Big Something experience.
The mechanical dynamics of their group improvisation plays like masters of a sport in an exhibition match, who are artfully playing together at the height of their abilities, working together to create an exceptionally great expression of their craft. What they’re doing is, indeed, serious and easily some of the greatest spectacle available but created in a way that focuses on playful enjoyment and doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.
Or, that is to say, enjoying the moment is serious business to these guys.
A noteworthy lyrical moment occurs when Nick tears through the mix to say: “You know the Sun is always shining..” as if to say “It’s going to be okay… In fact, this place is wonderful.. All it takes is the inner-vision to realize this awareness and we’ll gladly show you the way through our inspired musical expressions.”
They play with influences creatively while remaining entirely themselves.
On this tune they express a full-spectrum emotionality and a heartstring tug like only a lonesome bluegrass tune with a hopeful tinge can provide. In the now familiar, out-and-out impressive fashion, the synth solo makes a big impact here.
Just when you think otherwise, you’re saved by a honky, major bliss guitar line that lifts the spirit and pays homage to the heaviness of life. Eventually, we’re reminded that there’s nothing like the rustic ebullience of a well-timed mandolin.
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Nick MacDaniels is an exceptional talent. Other than playing the guitar upside down, ala Albert King, his vocals are also strong and unique. This song provides a painfully precise profession of his vocal prowess. Lyrically and vocally, the man puts it out there throughout the entirety of the album and in full display on this track.
A scintillating, masterpiece of production. Raising the hair on your neck in Tweeprisal proportions.
Slicing through the mix like the white wizard himself, Jesse utilizes reverberant snarls to build and meld with the arpeggiated bliss of synth-lines, further exemplifying the mastery of production and expressive interplay displayed on this album.
Through the improv, they collectively rally around sustained guitar notes into a repeating theme that builds in intensity in no small part, due to bassist, Doug Marshall, laying down the funk with a traveling groove. Massaging the pocket and utilizing subtle accentuations to express the powerful emotive forces and earthy vibes that only a bassman can conjure as the jam devolves to the depraved depths of a sloshy, rage-groove.
The transition from Blue Dream > The Flood is a gnarsty production move. Comin’ in hot with a palpitating bass-groove and elastic guitar snarls to support.
In yet another noteworthy moment of production, Nick’s vocals emerge from a deafening silence and tear back into the raucous inundation that is “The Flood”.
Doug the bassist, really shines on the slinky, transitional vibe into the improv section. Affirming the truth that it must be prerequisite to be a sage-like master of chill, in order to play the bass at a high level. This dude is so firmly in the pocket — cruisin’ the groovusphere, and thumpin’ the low-end in a nebulous Lay-Z-Boy.
From the mayhemic fires, Jesse lifts the jam out from the ashes to resolve the tune with reverberant tones that lead into the cosmic conundrum that is, “UFO’s Are Real”.
UFO’s ARE REAL
An absolute landmark recording for Big Something. All the elements come together on this track.
This tune evokes their aesthetic (artistic ethos) through an irresistibly funky-groove, featuring sultry syncopations amidst powerful punctuations of soulful vocals and well-timed, horn blasts.
The drums on this track are exceptionally solid and on-point. Decidedly hittin’ an insatiable groove-itch with just the right amount of thumpity to go with the precisely syncopated umpity. Saucy changes, delicious interplay and leslie laden guitar work come together before a nefarious synth unizps the groove by way of your spinal column.
Jessie’s guitar work elevates the music to the realm of the sublime. He doesn’t just play on top of, or around the music as a soloist. His playing communes with the soul of the jam and passionately raises it to new heights.
In my experience, Waves and The Flood, were both songs on the album that inspired feelings of “Woh!.. I need to go back and give those another listen”. Waves is a groove that patiently, yet powerfully, facilitates the ascension that any Big Something jam is heir to. A lyrically thought-provoking track that gives way to a thoroughly satisfying throw-down.
The textural layerings available on this tune are indicative of how well the collective forces play together. The outro section is exemplary of how Jesse’s solo work melts into the music and ascends in unison with a refreshingly original technique and tonality.
IN THE MIDDLE
On this track we find Nick groovin’ out something serious on the vocals. Ringing out to a delightful chorus, before guttural vocals give way to searing guitar.
A twisted vibrato synth, carries the tune throughout, and builds to a double-timed percussive interlude with a quick but necessary stop at Shreddsville before musically going “back where you belong”, so to speak.
Big Something, through introspection and the experiential connectedness that inspired it, is able to offer insight that the patron can use to expand awareness, cultivate taste, acquire wisdom, glean insight and ultimately, facilitate personal growth.
In this spirit, Big Something’s vibe appeals to the childlike sense of wonder in all of us. Much like the rarified bliss that comes from unfettered experience and appreciating something completely and effortlessly. One of the ways they establish their presence musically is by creating a melody and building around it towards an improvisational section that affords the music an opportunity to develop a life of it’s own while growing around melodic and lyrical elements.
Reminiscent of fantastical adventure-movies like ET, Hook or The Goonies — A purveyor of the Big Something experience enlists in a marauding crew of swashbuckling space adventurers with the soul of Pan.
In the case of Big Something, the whole is far greater than the sum of it’s parts. When they come together, an infectious confluence of amorous forces congeal in ways that are so irresistibly delicious, I find myself floating through the totality of mySelf in novel, and inspired ways when listening to their music.
So much of this band comes from the excessive talent of the musicians on an individual level. Holistically, this comes from the joyful interplay of their creative confluence, which is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and redeeming quality of this band and possibly the most compelling reason to engage with their continuing development.