First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
When Blues Traveler scored an unlikely hit with Four, many young disciples of the ’60s rock scene received a boost in attention from the mainstream media. Perhaps no band benefitted more from the exposure than Rusted Root. Propelled by prominent support slots on the summer concert circuit, its major label debut When I Woke turned into a mammoth success, but this didn’t come without a price. Between a heavy touring schedule, a lack of material, and the expectations of its burgeoning audience, the Pittsburgh-based sextet was severely limited in what it could accomplish, and its early triumphs cut like a double-edged sword and began to take their toll. In short, Rusted Root grew tired of many of its songs, and as a result, its performances lacked passion. Although its subsequent albums were solid, if somewhat scattered affairs, it wasn’t until the release of Welcome to My Party — the ensemble’s fourth effort not counting the independently released Cruel Sun (much of which was recycled for its major label outings) — that the band rediscovered the organic, rhythmic core of its compositions. On its latest project, the unimaginatively titled Live, the collective culled 22 tracks from its 2003 tour in order to craft what surprisingly is its first full-length concert recording, and by focusing primarily upon selections from When I Woke and Welcome to My Party, the set serviceably doubles as a comprehensive, greatest hits-style retrospective. Granted, there are a few moments on the two-disc package when Rusted Root still appears to be going through the motions, continuing to struggle with finding new ways in which to rejuvenate the tired refrains of some of its songs. For the most part, however, the group is sufficiently inspired, and it rattles around its world beat grooves with a newfound sense of eager playfulness. Ecstacy’s energetic, drum circle bombast; the smatterings of Doors-ian darkness that creep through Voodoo; the patchouli-laced, percussive swirl of Lost in the Crowd; the heady, cosmic flight of Cruel Sun; and even the familiar pairing of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower with the funk-fueled strains of Cat Turned Blue are refreshingly delivered with an air toward the sort of probing exploration that once routinely pervaded the band’s performances. Elsewhere, Rusted Root turns tenderly soulful on haunted renditions of Blue Diamonds and Heaven; drenches Women Got My Money in snarling, distorted guitar; and warmly embraces the primal rebirth of its signature sing-along Back to the Earth. The problem, however, is that little of the music on Live manages to eclipse the ensemble’s studio output, and the two previously unreleased tracks — Jack Kerouac and a cover of Neil Young’s Powderfinger — though well-played, are unremarkable. In other words, despite Rusted Root’s recent resurrection, Live is still a collection that is best suited for the group’s most avid fans, and the casual observer simply should wait for the inevitable studio compilation that undoubtedly will surface towards the conclusion of the collective’s upcoming hiatus.
Live is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box