By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
With the assistance of Harvin, Reid, pianist Dave Palmer (on loan from Harvin's band), bassist Drew Phelps (formerly of Cafˇ Noir), Billygoat percussionist Mike Dillon, singer Analisa Ripke, and tablas player Nikhil Pandya, Griffin creates a disconcerting musical landscape--part free-jazz, part funk, with hip-hop beats on top of trumpet on top of flute--over which he recites his psychobabble. "My purpose here is to clearly demonstrate to all concerned that you are indeed insane," he says in a monotone on "Tiptoe Through the Inferno," his voice distorted just slightly; another track he simply titled "If I Only Had a Brain."
The album is a complete mood piece, rambling yet coherent--as driven by the jazz instrumentals as by the loony spoken-word pieces. A song like "Gracias Pepˇ"--on which the main sound is one of those long, flexible tubes that howls when you twirl it--and the groovy cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Stare and Stare" (featuring the delirious work of Reid on guitar) sound like different artists when taken separately; and yet, when heard sandwiched in between the other tracks, they work to disquieting effect--like half-remembered snatches of dreams and nightmares so tangible you wonder if they are real.
"The whole point is to make it feel like [the album] took you somewhere," Griffin says of One Foot Ahead of the Spider. "That's one thing I really like about this album--it just goes in all these crazy directions, and yet makes sense to me. I mean, it starts out with this big long jazz cut, goes right into this bossa-nova funk tune, then this rap tune, then 'Stare and Stare' comes out of the blue. Then 'Buried at Sea' is a nice antidote to that, then it goes right into another jazz trip for 'Tiptoe Through the Inferno,' then again out of the blue here comes 'Gracias Pepˇ' that doesn't relate to anything.
"I just like the way it goes through all these different things. It's not just one mood it's setting up; it goes through a whole bunch of different ones, but they work well in succession against each other."
Listening to the opening track of Beef Jerky's Guaranteed Fresh CD, one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to guess that these boys hail from Denton, where every other band has a mammoth horn section and 132 members, all of whom play at the same time. When it seems all the funk bands have broken up, yet another one from Denton pops up to pick up this award--Whitey last year, Goodfoot before that, and so on down the line.
To understand Beef Jerky and their ilk you have to understand Denton, or any small college town, with its nuances and hybrid culture and its insatiable lust for entertainment (and a not-so-insatiable lust for education). Most of these bands contain at least a dozen members who descended upon "Hell's Lobby" (as a recent Denton rock compilation called the city because of its status as an entryway to Dallas) to attend the University of North Texas, a damned good music school. Even better, the place is notorious as a fine party town, and Beef Jerky is, if anything, a fine party band that most certainly listened to Parliament-Funkadelic and the Red Hot Chili Peppers records when not in the library studying.
Frontman Bubba may sound a tad unconvincing when he sings about "soul power" and makes references to James Brown (though he's quite believable when he insists, "We ain't Tripping Daisy"). But that's a moot point as long as the rhythm is infectious and the pure energy elevates you to a stage of euphoria on a Thursday night with a gut full of beer and a swarm of sweaty members of the opposite sex dancing around you. The trio of horns slices through every important riff from the funk fakebook, and the rhythm section is as tight as can be.
The seven members of the group bound giddily from song to song, whether they're copping rap riffs in "Leave Me Alone" or borrowing from War's "Low Rider" to come up with "Easy Squeeze." As if the band members' names weren't indication enough--Flog on bass, Freaky Burgeson on trumpet, Monchici on sax, and so forth--the song titles (including "Let's Get Naked and Funk" and "Party") and dope-smoking anthems bear ample proof that Beef Jerky is the musical equivalent of a 10-keg frat party. Without the hangover.
There is no disputing that Brave Combo easily fits criteria for this category, just as there is no disputing the ease with which they win this award each year. Since its inception more than a decade ago, this band has broadened its palette of influences to include such a wide spectrum of sounds that it is more international than the United Nations. In the past few years alone, the Combo has added traditional Japanese music (ondo), French cabaret, and classic-rock standards to its repertoire, fleshing out a sound that already was well-grounded in conjunto, salsa, polkas, cha-chas, waltzes, and what-have-you.
And yet, each year Brave Combo is nominated only in this category, ghettoized to "International/Latin," though Brave Combo is among the best bands this town (including Denton) has ever produced. Not once have Carl Finch, Bubba Hernandez, Jeffrey Barnes, and the other members been given a shot at the top honors (songwriting, best act overall, local musician of the year, best album) because we have come to think of them as this ill-defined beast that falls in the crack separating the intellectual from the novel.