Anytime a world renowned band releases a new album, a plethora of reviews is sure to follow. Every opinion from the good, to the bad and ugly will be expressed. Some neophytes expose their lack of knowledge about the band by misquoting lyrics or mistaking the number of albums produced, or worse yet, making it clear that they've never experienced a live show. In many ways, critical analyses tell far more about the assessor than the assessed. That being said, here's a summary of what the journalistic world is saying about “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.”
There are a few key points that most writers are articulating in their descriptions of the new creation. First, that “Big Whiskey” is a come-back effort. Many articles focus on the fact that this work is a spirited return to a pre-”Everyday” era for the Dave Matthews Band. Second, most stories mention the tragic passing of LeRoi Moore and the way that the album opens with his solo. The theme of death and impermanence rising from the lyrics is also depicted, however, reactions to the inclusion of this motif vary widely. While Slant magazine states that, “The Dave Matthews Band is still obsessed with death,” others more accurately describe the record as honoring, and a “beautiful celebration of music and life,” as reported by the Seattle Times. Thankfully, most commentaries acknowledge the profound effect that losing a founding member has had on the group, and commend the men on their ability to endure and persist despite such grave circumstances. The third factor that figures prominently in the essays is the inclusion of Dave's electric guitar on the new tracks. Response to this aspect is mostly positive, with the majority agreeing that this element provides grounding and sustenance to the compilation.
My least favorite review comes from a person who believes that DMB's studio albums far outperform their live concerts. This man also uses some pretty ridiculous words to describe his opinion, calling the live performances “wank-fests,” and Dave's lyrical ability that of a “bonehead.” Out of professional courtesy I won't tell you that his name is Jim DeRogatis and he writes for the Chicago Sun Times. Oops! Seriously though, the best parts of his article are all of the comments that follow from readers who more or less elegantly express their disagreements with his lopsided evaluation.
The best write-up, in my opinion, comes from Rolling Stone, which is arguably one of the most trusted sources for musical news. In this entry David Fricke draws some insightful conclusions while pinpointing the various sounds evident in each of the new tunes. The feature ends with a beautiful reference to LeRoi, that I encourage you to read for yourself.
Of course no one can describe “Big Whiskey” as well as Dave who is quoted in USA Today as saying, "I don't believe in fate as much as I believe in synchronicity, but the synchronicity of a monument to LeRoi and at the same time wrapping it as an homage to New Orleans and a gratitude to that city - it's interesting that that could happen without planning." Once again, Dave's words shine like bright stars in a vast sky.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self