First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2007, Volume 14, #2
Written by John Metzger
Performing in neighborhood bars can be a thankless job, but for the past 16 years, Mr. Blotto consistently has won over audiences throughout the greater Chicago area by mixing original tunes with an astoundingly lengthy list of cover songs in order to create a sterling soundtrack for a night on the town. Had it opted to tour the country, the ensemble likely would be better known outside the region, particularly within the circles that typically are frequented by jam band addicts. By its own choice, the group humbly has opted to balance family life with career aspirations, thus remaining firmly planted within the Windy City. Its latest effort Barlow Shanghai, however, just might be the thing that forces the bandís members to leave the cozy confines of their homes. Simply put, with the help of former Grateful Dead lyricist John Barlow, Mr. Blotto has made its biggest statement to date, one which ought to inject a bit of perspective into the improvisational rock scene.
Throughout Barlow Shanghai, Mr. Blotto effectively uses the many touchstones of its repertoire as a foundation for seamlessly blurring the line between past and present, and the result is that it brings together multiple generations via its journey across the vast landscape of rock ínĎ rollís rich heritage. Evangeline, for example, may be deeply indebted to both Ray Charles and Billy Joel, but it also is touched by the southern blues of the Allman Brothers Band as well as by the sort of spiraling, space-born gleams of light that Jerry Garcia once shot across the heavens. Elsewhere, Mr. Blotto fuels Thatís What I Said by slamming Phishís Down with Disease into the heady, guitar-driven blissfulness of moe., while Organ Grinder laces Blues Travelerís driving funk with the spiritual essence of the Grateful Dead. Granted, Barlow Shanghai isnít a groundbreaking affair, nor is it the type of outing that will send a series of seismic shockwaves rolling through the blogosphere. Nevertheless, the maturity of Mr. Blottoís approach has produced a smartly conceived endeavor that succeeds in ways that most of the efforts concocted by those currently working the jam band and indie rock oeuvres donít.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box