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Big Something | Big Something

album review by John Powell

Big Something | Big Something

If you’re not listening to Big Something, then you’re missing something. Big. This North Carolina jam band is all the best parts of Phish (“Tweezer”, “Slave to the Traffic Light”), all the rock of Umphrey’s (“Divisions”), and all the Southern rock of Widespread Panic. These tracks are all rich with heavy guitar riffs, sleeting solos, slick horns, perfect synth, sudsy bass, and Neil Peart level drums. We don’t rate albums here, but this is five out of five stars.

On their first album, Stories From the Middle of Nowhere, Big Something made a concept album about night skies, country living, and growing up not too quickly. While their self-titled isn’t maybe recognized as a concept album, it lives up to its name in theme. You can picture this all, taking place in a North Carolina field, a blanket of heady lights above. These songs are folk songs, narratives, incorporating magic, astrology, and childish imagination, all with blissful, energetic, mystical precision.

Beyond that, the production is some of the finest in contemporary music. The instruments blend nicely, but everything can be picked out, and Nick Macdaniels’ vocals are clear. You simply can’t turn this album up loud enough. And it’s also loose and the songs are long, feeling like a live show.

Many of these songs, in fact, have been in the live show set list for a few years, arriving now in the neat package, and yes, the CD version is beautiful, including a booklet of original artwork and all the song lyrics. One joy for the album-lover is the thought put into the song order and the corresponding booklet notes.

“Julia Brown” starts things off with rippling guitar play. This narrative is a great intro. “It was just a song/ she didn’t mean no harm,” Nick sings. “Don’t awaken the spirits within.” Following is the sexy and enchanting “The Glow”, where a blend of voices drip, “Let it burn/ I can see into the night,” and later, “I like to watch the days turning into night.” The lyrics would seem uninspired except for the vocal performance and the instrumentation, each note and rhythm change as tight as anything Rush has ever concocted.

The reggae tinged “The Undertow” shows off the band’s influences and abilities, here Casey Cranford showing off his sax playing. Sax adds dimension to Big Something, used both as classic funk and reggae melody makers, and, like Jesse Hensley’s lead guitar, sometimes chaotic witch brewing. Often the two trade solos and sometimes play in unison.

A key track is “Vibrations”, although every song here is epic. What makes “Vibrations” stand out? The uninhibited hippie-ness of it. “Just wanna see you set yourself free,” Nick sings. “It’s something in the air.” It’s about time a band like this came out with an unabashed jam session, unencumbered by what anyone else will think.

There is no weak track on this album. It begins unflinchingly, rising and falling, a complete album. Yes, it’s jammy, but tight and not without purpose. These songs are composed- not drugged up and tuned out. This is the album that sets Big Something into the upper ranks, puts them on the map with the greats. I can’t recommend this album enough.

Bottom line: Jam band songs about night skies and letting go, each with cool sax, stellar guitar solos, and tight instrumentation. This is essential listening.


 

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