Great American Taxi: Reckless Habits

Loosely polished album of country, blues, bluegrass, boogie and rock ‘n’ roll

The second album from this funky jam-band exhibits the same sort of artistic serendipity with which the group was born. In the wake of Leftover Salmon’s demise, front-man Vince Herman hooked up with Chad Staehly and a hand-picked group of local musicians for a charity performance that spawned Great American Taxi. The polished looseness of Leftover Salmon’s jam-band legacy informs the new group’s music, as do the New Orleans influences found on songs like “Baby Hold On” and “Mountain Top,” but there’s a heavier dose of blues and southern rock boogie here. Think of the Grateful Dead at their most driving, Little Feat traipsing through their trademark rhythm ‘n’ roll or The Band playing reflective and bittersweet.

The group’s country tunes, such as the pedal steel-lined “New Madrid,” have more in common with cosmic American music than Leftover Salmon’s string-band influences, and the album’s title track pays twangy tribute to Gram Parsons. “Unpromised Land” suggests what Lynyrd Skynyrd might’ve sounded like as a progressive-bluegrass band, and at six minutes you get a taste of the band’s instrumental jamming. The original “American Beauty” (with its tip of the hat to the Dead) rolls along on an Allman-styled groove. There’s funk, boogie and humor that variously brings to mind the Neville Brothers, Commander Cody and the Morrells, but more than anything there’s an enormous feeling of satisfaction that comes from making music.

The album opens on an optimistic note with the fanciful dreaming of “One of These Days,” and the road warrior of “Unpromised Land” is pained by his longing for someone back home. But really, how bad can you feel when you’re packing a banjo player and a fiddler to cut a jig for you? Even the list of modern-ills that fuel the fast-paced “New Millennium Blues” are rolled out with the matter-of-factness of fatalistic observation rather than the ire of complaint, and the daily grind of a working musician has more fringe benefits than the title “Tough Job” might at first suggest. The group’s guitar, bass and drums are augmented by a four-piece horn section that adds New Orleans-styled brass (leading the march on the bonus instrumental “Parade”), and a trio of backing singers that adds gospel flavor.

This is a seamless hour of confident and self-assured roots music that effortlessly combines country, rock, blues, bluegrass and second-line funk. The instrumental jamming is fluid but focused, limiting the album’s three longest tracks to six minutes and the two instrumentals to fewer than three apiece. The top-line string band sound of Leftover Salmon has given way to sublime country-rock and the flavors of New Orleans. Herman seems tremendously energized by this music, his band is sharp and the guest playing of Barry Sless (pedal steel), Matt Flinner (banjo), the Peak to Freak Horns, and Black Swan Singers provide icing on a sweet cake. Fans of the Dead, Band, Burritos, Byrds and Little Feat, as well as recent acts like the Band of Heathens will love this one. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | One of These Days
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