“Sweet Primitive!”: A Review of Big Whiskey & The Groogrux King
By Melissa Scalzo
Okay, I admit, I got the leaked version of Big Whiskey. You probably did too. I couldn’t wait, just knowing it was out there, I had to hear it. With all intentions of buying the record, I opted for the special deluxe box set. Prior to listening to the advance copy, I had only heard a couple of songs: Funny the Way It Is, Why I Am, and Spaceman; mostly what they had been playing live.
So when I downloaded The April Sessions, I was more than surprised to find that none of the songs I knew from the past couple of tours were included. I did not know the tracklisting before, mind you, as I wanted to make it a surprise for the first listen. Much to my chagrin, there was no studio Break Free, not to mention Shotgun, Kill the King, Eh Hee, Falling off the Roof, #27, Can’t Stop, Idea Of You, the list goes on. There was easily an album’s worth of material, and the songs were powerful, and clearly better than we had heard in years.
Where did all of these songs go? We got Joyride studio on an extra disc like the Little Red Bird EP, but before Stand Up came out, there were plenty of songs in rotation that were never recorded in the studio such as Good Good Time, Sugar Will, Crazy Easy. Hello Again is the only one that made the record. It’s like Blue Water and Granny. There’s this magical world somewhere that all the unreleased DMB songs are dancing together in.
I can say this openly now, after watching the documentary on Fuse about the band and the road they took to get to Big Whiskey 2009. The first three albums are among my favorite of all time. I have always loved Busted Stuff too, even if I loved The Lillywhite Sessions first. Everyday and Stand Up, eh, not so much.
I appreciate them because they are by Dave Matthews Band, who I stand by regardless of what they do, which helps and hurts sometimes. There are great songs on them, but something lacking in the full album capacity. I always thought there was more to come from them, something better. Something waiting in the shadows.
As it stands, I have not listened to anything else in the past two weeks. BWGK is on repeat, now with the Little Red Bird EP and new live tracks from the album (courtesy of WeeklyDavespeak!) thrown in the mix.
I did have one complaint before I received the official deluxe box set on the release date. At first, I was slightly disappointed by the album ending with the song You and Me. On the earlier version, the song was basically acoustic, sans drums, and seemed like a weak way to end such a great album. I liked the song, but not for a last song. I almost wanted Time Bomb to end instead, with Dave screaming “I want to believe in Jesus!” It seemed more effective somehow.
I got a call from a friend that day who got the album earlier than me, gushing about how I needed to hear the new (and improved) You and Me. Not only was the song better musically and with the rest of the band, but now when the album ends, after a brief moment, we get one last taste of Leroi to close the album.
Losing Roi has been hard for the fans, still not even a year past and yet so much happening. He died on my birthday. There’s a date I won’t ever be able to forget. But what I find makes it easier is the way the band has handled his death. This album is all about him and his music is all over it, most notably at the very beginning and end. I couldn’t have asked for more. I almost cry every time I hear the intro to Lying in the Hands Of God because it’s so Roi. It makes me sad and yet elates me every time.
The man was a musician but what I find more from watching the videos and documentaries of DMB together is that he was a friend and brother to them. The fact that the band can go on without Leroi in such a strong and amazing way really proves how important Dave Matthews Band is. These men are musicians, artists and most importantly, humans.
They have gone through devastating loss, but instead of breaking up, they have come back with their strongest album in years, one they dedicate to Roi and acknowledge would have never been possible without him. He pushed them to make a record that would be as powerful in the studio versions as performed live, where they have always been their best. Through them, he will always be alive.
From start to finish, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King is something special. And what’s even more impressive is the box set. In a large album-sized box, fans get the CD, the EP with #27 and three other new songs, a large booklet of photos of the band, a smaller photo book of just Leroi, and then Dave’s drawings.
Now, I had read about this before purchasing the set and knew I had to have them, whatever they were, even if scribbled on a bar napkin. But instead, the pictures are large and frame-worthy masterpieces. There is one for the cover in color and one in black and white, and then one for each song on the record. Every song comes complete with New Orleans inspired artwork and intricate detailing that made me appreciate Dave Matthews as the definition of an artist. The lyrics to each song are handwritten by him and his way too neat handwriting. They are stunning and remarkable.
I have to say, this blew me away. Nowadays, anything a band can do to make a record worth buying instead of just purchasing it digitally online makes a difference considering how few people still buy physical CD’s. For a fan like me, who follows the band as often as possible and has more than 30 shows under her belt, I felt that much closer to the band, and Dave. I was holding his art in my hands. I studied it while listening to the record. I felt like I was back in New Orleans, my favorite city, right there with them where jazz music found its heart and soul.
Needless to say, I love Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King. I’m so proud of them for making it possible considering all they have been through, with losing Roi and dealing with the inner band woes. I’m so thankful they made it out of the hole and back here, into our hearts and ears, where they belong.