(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

CD Review - Whiskey Blanket, Credible Forces

I covered Whiskey Blanket's live performance earlier in the month, now I'm finally getting to their CD, Credible Forces. This is a deeply layered set of tracks with a fairly unique musical feel. On the whole it's an impressive effort but, occasionally, the lyrical coherence doesn't hold together.

Three guys make up this Boulder band, each with his own stage name and personality. Sloppy Joe is a little bit more funny and a bit of a smart ass, sometimes playing the "Humpty Hump" role. In addition to rapping, he plays violin (and mandolin) on many of these tracks. Funny Biz seems a little more political and serious, although there are plenty of references to his party animal side in the lyrics. He raps and does some machine gun speed beat boxing. He also plays cello on a couple of tracks. Steakhouse is the main producer on the disc. As a rapper, he falls closer to Funny Biz's style. He handles the scratching and DJ role and also plays a fair bit of the live music mixed in on this CD (keys and bass with occasional guitar). Overall, they deliver conscious rap lyrics, with fairly fast toasting-style rhythms.

The live music bits on this album go a long way towards creating the unique sound. While plenty of hip hop takes on an R&B groove or rock feel, WB is more likely to slide into a classical mode or some kind of jazzy world beat. The first track, a short introduction, has a chamber music piece with some voice over mixed in. That sets up the second track, Night Waltz, with a deep layering of chorale vocals, accordion, live bass and guitar, and scratching. The "mood classical" permeates the CD, including Make Believe, Crunkster Malunkster, and Immaculate Dungeon of Manifested Solitude (where beatbox and violin collide), but there are plenty of other sounds, like klezmer, Gipsy Kings, and Pink Floyd. In some ways, they remind me a little of the Dutch DJs, C-Mon and Kipski.

One of my two favorite tracks on the disc, Wake and Stretch, starts out sounding like It's a Beautiful Day, but drifts more into a String Cheese Incident kind of groove. Once again, there's a lot going on musically here and it all fits together with the rap. Credible Sources, which is a shout out to the jazz greats, also gains complexity by the live mandolin and bass tracks in the mix. These two songs really showcase some of the originality that Whiskey Blanket brings to their sound.

So with all of this, what's not to like? A little bit of contextual muddiness, maybe. Dark Secrets starts out with a driven feel, fueled by a herky-jerky piano and funk guitar. The lyrics fit that mood, even if they're a little metaphorical:
I gotta rifle through the trash bins and stifle all the has-beens.
Fight for my passions and write off when I cash in...
The second verse keeps up this feel but the third verse just falls into a standard bragging rap that doesn't fit the feel of the song or the earlier lyrics:
Understand that we got the baddest, fattest raps on the planet
And it's set in stone, matter of fact, it's grafted in granite
We rock Pacific Atlantic, White Asian, Black, and Hispanic...
It's not bad, it would just be better in some other song. Another example is Temptations, which starts with introductions of the guys then eventually becomes a conscious rap about creative growth. The point is good to make, but the first third of the song just doesn't fit together.

Is any of that a reason to pan this disc? Not at all. The musical originality and interesting production make this very worthwhile. Even if you don't like rap, there are plenty of elements to make this worth checking out.

I'll pair this with a nice Belgian lambic (say Drie Fonteinen) because the sour complexity works for me but may not be to everyone else's taste.

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