Last of the Blue Diamond Miners
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2001, Volume 8, #8
Written by T.J. Simon
There is something about the jam band format that lends itself quite nicely to collaboration among artists. The loose, improvisational nature of jamming encourages a natural give and take from musicians without a long history together. When like-minded strangers join forces, something new and exciting is born, and the listener can witness the whole, which often exceeds the sum of its parts. This is the magic behind the New Jersey band Stir Fried and its third album Last of the Blue Diamond Miners.
Stir Fried is the baby of John Markowski — a songwriter, vocalist, and rhythm guitar player. Like much of the best music produced today, the group is hard to pigeonhole. It is undoubtedly and unapologetically a jam band with influences in country, folk, Cajun, blues, and rock, and as such, it often recalls the grooves of The Grateful Dead, Rusted Root, and Poi Dog Pondering.
Markowski’s voice is a pleasant warble reminiscent of Joe Walsh, but Stir Fried’s secret weapon is clearly background vocalist Joanne Lediger. Her singing is so strong and beautiful that more often than not it trumps whatever else may be happening in the song. She sounds like Bonnie Raitt to the tenth power, and her contributions far exceed that of a normal background singer. The lyrical back and forth between Lediger and Markowski create two additional instruments to an already crowded musical lineup.
Several guests grace Last of the Blue Diamond Miners, paying homage to the jam. Dr. John provides piano support on three of the eleven tracks including the bluesy groove of Vanessa. A 71-year-old fiddler and five-time Grammy nominee named Vassar Clements shreds his violin on songs like West of the Mississippi — a cut that could have been a lost Woody Guthrie traveling hymn. Stir Fried’s rhythm section is showcased in the funky tune Blood Brother, and Buddy Cage — who has performed with members of The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and New Riders of The Purple Sag — is prominently featured on pedal steel guitar whenever the group’s improvisations turn towards more country-oriented territory.
According to the liner notes, Last of the Blue Diamond Miners was recorded over only two days. Despite this, the production and mix on the album are superb. The musicians on the project were firing on all cylinders during the sessions, and the result is a piece of music any jam band enthusiast should be happy to own.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box