Local scenesters may be quick to categorize rock trio Dangermuffin as groove-rock revivalists. And while they distill a range of retro, folk-rock, jam band, and reggae influences — from the strummy balladry of John Prine to the collegiate funkiness of Jack Johnson — those bits don’t tell the full story. Judging from the polished grooves and organic songwriting on their brand new, self-recorded, independently-released debut, Dangermuffin are capable of much more than simple bar-fly enjoyment.
“We very rarely try to accurately cover the tunes we cover,” says lead guitarist Mike Sivilli. “We play them in our own way, however it comes together. The same goes for our original material. We often work into a spontaneous groove, and go, ‘Man we need to remember that!’ Sometimes, that’s the beginning of a song. That happened with several tunes on this new album.”
Sivilli and singer/acoustic guitarist Dan Lotti first gigged together as a two-piece act in late 2005, performing a series of weekly shows at various downtown and beachfront venues. A few months into things, they enlisted drummer Jim Donnelly. “Dangermüffin” (with the umlaut) played a versatile mix of groove-based guitar-pop, Americana, funk, reggae, and vintage soul.
“We started out as a basic acoustic guitar duo with a drummer,” says Donnelly. “As things became more comfortable, it turned around into an actual rock group. From there, everything fell into place. We never really focused on fine-tuning things in particular; it just happened naturally.”
Lotti was already a fixture on the scene as a solo performer. He and Donnelly played together in N.Y.C. in 2004-’05. Sivilli first played in town with guitarist/drummer Travis McCann. Both relocated to Charleston from Raleigh and performed under the name Round Two.
“Developing our full-band sound really started at weekly gigs at places like the Roof Top Bar, where we had to play quietly,” says Sivilli. “We worked on controlling our dynamics from those experiences.”
Recently, the trio officially dropped the umlaut. They’re currently armed with an impressive 10-song album titled Beermuda. The entire album was recorded at Plowground Productions, Donnelly’s home studio on Johns Island. All three bandmates share the songwriting credit.
“Having the studio set-up available at Jim’s place was crucial,” says Lotti. “I may have had the original ideas for some of these songs, but being able to get together without distraction in a studio room with everyone allowed us to put things together collectively.”
Beermuda is loose in all the right places, straight-ahead and solid with very subtle audio effects and atmospheric guitar work. “Masquerade” demonstrates the band’s dynamic chemistry and “less is more” philosophy, working from a two-chord progression on Lotti’s acoustic and the tip-tappin’ of Donnelly’s brushy snare work. Sivilli’s echo-laden slide guitar embellishments work beautifully around the edges of main vocal melody. Other highlights include the countrified knee-slapper “Free Man,” the snappy, beer-fueled “What’s in a Bottle,” and the reggae-tinged “Martyr Song” grooves with a reggae beat and Lotti’s slightly more emphasized Caribbean/Jack Johnson drawl.
“We try use our musical diversity for the greater good,” he says. “We try to weave it together so there’s a little bit of eclecticness, but also a solid foundation and a continuity between the songs.”
If Dangermuffin continue to collaborate in such a positive manner, they could very well become the most eclectic rock band in town.