Sol Driven Train
Sol Driven Train’s latest studio album is notable for three reasons. It celebrates the arrival of drummer Wes Powers, a skillful musician with taste and chops. It sounds fuller, crisper, and cleaner than anything they’ve released before. And it’s the band’s most musically schizophrenic collection of its 10-year career.
Stylistically, Believe is all over the place — from the reggae and groove-rock of the title track and “Tend Your Fire” early in the set to the country, gospel, and Caribbean flavors that follow. The peppery brass and staccato guitar work enhances the hearty groove on “Suffer,” the third track in the album’s opening trilogy.
Believe‘s middle section veers away from the reggae-rock altogether. Ward Buckheister’s seemingly lighthearted ballad “Beasy Song” (on which he sings lead) meanders from shruggy, lyrical silliness and innocence to more serious earnestness (“Love is patient, love is blind/Love will kick you from behind that’s the deal,” he sings … the verses eventually lead into reflections on the passing of a loved one).
Unexpectedly, they go zydeco on “Stevie Song #3,” a hoppin’ number penned by former drummer Phil Eason. With its Bo Diddley rhythm, the optimistic New Orleans-styled “Cake” could easily land a spot on the soundtrack of HBO’s Treme. Bassist Rusty Cole’s gospel-tinged “Revolver” foot-stomps from verse to verse.
Things turn serious with the intense anthem “Orangeburg,” with Timmons crooning about the racial tensions of 1968. Timmons lyrics seem a bit forced at times here, but the arrangement and solos are impressive.
Most of the final tracks on Believe form a sort of “side three” (in old-school vinyl terms) set of Americana and world music. Buckheister’s gritty vocals on “Over and Over in My Heart” contrast the cascading guitar arpeggios, crisp drum and bass accents, and sax player Russell Clarke’s soaring phrases. “Miss Ohio,” an acoustic ballad with Timmons on the mic, is among the strongest arrangements in the collection. “Cat in Half” is a hook-driven country-rocker featuring guest vocals from Cary Ann Hearst and fine fiddlin’ from violinist Roger Bellow. It shows off some of Timmon’s craftsmanship as well as his versatile vocal abilities.
“Miki Dora” U-turns Believe back into ska/reggae territory with a terrific call-and-response chorus between Timmons and his bandmates. The Latin-inflicted funk rhythms and freaky sound effects of “My Corolla” sound like War jamming with Medeski, Martin & Wood.
The outlandish “Toda la Gente” seems like a hidden track contributed by another band — a highly syncopated mash-up of Caribbean, West African, and South American influences. The actual hidden track fades in and out with Buckheister’s trombone blabbering joyfully over a hand-clappin’ chant.
Sol Driven Train’s musical personalities may dash in different directions, but the clever combination of styles on this album add up to a uniquely enjoyable collage. (soldriventrain.com)