Sundown on the Forest
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 1999, Volume 6, #7
Written by John Metzger
Kingfish first made a name for itself in 1976 with its self-titled debut album, which featured two compositions by Bob Weir that are familiar to Deadheads: Lazy Lightning and Supplication. The group, led by Matthew Kelly, included Weir as well as former New Riders of the Purple Sage bassist David Torbert. Weir quickly left the band to return his attention to the Grateful Dead, though he reunited with Kingfish for brief tours in 1984 and 1986. In the intervening years, Kelly kept the band recording and performing, utilizing a variety of outstanding musicians including Barry Sless, Mookie Siegel, Bill Laymon, and Arthur Steinhorn — all of whom now perform with the David Nelson Band.
Sundown on the Forest — Kingfish's first studio album in more than 20 years — reunites many of the musicians who have passed through the group, including Sless, Siegel, Weir, and keyboardist Barry Flast. Zero's Steve Kimock and Bobby Vega lent their assistance to three tracks, and the late Jerry Garcia made an appearance on a previously unreleased selection called Ridin' High. With all this help, it's no surprise that this may well be the best Kingfish album since its eponymous debut.
Ridin' High has its roots in a recording session from 1973 and though the vocals are handled admirably by Bill Cutler (who also wrote the track), they are sung as if they were originally intended for Bob Weir. Weir did record an acoustic guitar part for the song, but it's Garcia's gleeful guitar solo that concludes the tune and makes it truly stand out. Weir also turns up on several other songs, including Padlock Cufflinks, on which he delivers a gritty vocal performance.
Kingfish has always put a bit of a pop music spin on the blues, and Sundown on the Forest is no exception. Jenni Muldaur makes her debut with the band, providing a sumptuous vocal presence on three songs, while Kelly handles the vocals on the spiritually uplifting Every Little Light, a gospel-blues selection he has been performing with Ratdog and dedicating to the memory of Jerry Garcia.
Sundown on the Forest is certainly an ambitious effort that is full of ideas, though this is its biggest asset and its biggest flaw. It's somewhat difficult at first to get one's arms around everything on this release and perseverance is key to understanding it. Like the exquisite forest pictured on the album cover, there is a vast diversity of styles in the music, but in the end this diversity serves to function as a cohesive unit. Only when this is truly understood can the music that Kelly created be appreciated in full.
Sundown on the Forest is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box