Yes. Yes. Yes.
Yesterday, the Dave Matthews Band released their latest studio album, Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King. The release was a bit anti-climactic, because as Dave himself joked at a New York City concert on Monday night, the album had pretty much been leaked entirely through web clips and snippets on YouTube and iTunes.
Much will be made of the fact that one of the founding members of the band, Leroi Moore, died in August while the band was still working on Big Whiskey. I don't know if the album is good because they re-focused their efforts after Moore died, or because it inspired the band to write better, or play better, or if his death has absolutely nothing to do with the album (though it's probably not the last one, because starting with the title of the album, to the cover artwork, to at least three or four of the songs, the album is rife with references and tributes to Moore - whose nickname was "Groo Grux.")
But I do know the album is good.
The previous stuido release from Dave Matthews Band was Stand Up in 2005 which followd Busted Stuff in 2002. Neither comes close (Stand Up was widely considered a disappointment). In fact, Big Whiskey hearkens back to 2001's Everyday (my favorite), and in a few places even compares with the band's breakout 1996 offering, Crash (which, despite its popularity with screaming drunk girls everywhere, remains an incredible album).
Big Whiskey is probably not going to be remembered for radically changing the band's direction, and it's a little too cliche to say that with this album they "got back to their roots." But what is best about the album is that it is a solid offering from a great band; true to their sound but not a total rehash of previous work. Given whispers that the band might be finished (Dave himself admitted to writing a letter to his bandmates claiming that he was done last year), it is incredibly exciting for fans that they can still put out an album of this quality.
The album opens with Grux, a minute-long solo by the late Moore, reminding listeners of the segue from #41 to Say Goodbye on Crash. Up tempo pieces like Funny The Way It Is, Why I Am, and Spaceman are probably the highlights of the album, and will be easily recognizable to fans for the sound and their lyrics, with Matthews ruminating on the happy and sad elements of every day life (funny the way it is/not right or wrong/somebody's heart is broken/it becomes your favorite song). But there are softer, sadder and more reflective tracks as well, including Lying in the Hands of God, My Baby Blue, and You and Me, showing the band's fidelity to their acoustic sound (which, by the way, leaves my dumbfounded at critics who say this album is "too plugged in"; there is no way anyone who listened to the entire record could write that).
Is this the best album DMB has ever recorded? No, almost certainly not. Under the Table and Crash were so great when they came out, and Everyday brought together the best things about the band, so it is impossible to put Big Whiskey at the top of the list. But with the release of Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King did the Dave Matthews Band prove that they can still turn out great studio recordings that offer a fresh but familiar sound?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
To the judges:
Would Chuck like it?: Good god yes.
Would Open Bar like it?: Not sure he'd admit it, but I think yeah, he will acknowledge that this is a good album.
Would LJT like it?: Come on.