The Dang It Bobbys,
Big Trouble
(independent, 2011)

Elephant Revival,
Break in the Clouds
(Ruff Shod, 2010)

As a chronic sufferer I can count on the hour at which my insomnia kicks in. So in the middle of the night I can usually be found foggily eyeballing reruns of King of the Hill. You probably can't sit through a single episode without hearing a fond but exasperated Hank Hill reproach his son with the phrase that the Dang It Bobbys (from New York City) borrow for their name. That makes them likable to me. Their music, too, is nicely played, witty and tuneful.

The Dang It Bobbys can be characterized, if only roughly, as an acoustic string band, which carries certain expectations, mostly some variation of roots-based sounds: old-time, bluegrass, Western swing, rural blues, early jazz perhaps. Nope. What we have here on Big Trouble are pure pop songs that, though the creation (sometimes co-creation) of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kris Bauman, owe a clear debt to the Beatles and a few of their contemporaries, including perhaps Paul Simon when not rummaging through his collection of Third World records.

My enthusiasm for pop music long gone from life and ear, I can only admire the Bobbys from a certain esthetic distance. I recognize, though, that they're doing what they do well. If you're curious about what the Beatles might have sounded like had they released acoustic records, I think I can pretty much guarantee you will like this.

The five-member, Colorado-based Elephant Revival, another acoustic outfit trafficking in acoustic pop (albeit in a more folkish form), conjures up the kind of hippie nature mysticism ordinarily thought to have gone the way of mass psychedelic abuse. Some of the song titles give you the idea: "Cosmic Pulse," "What Is Time," "Ancient Sea," the title tune. This sort of thing, which the Elephants call "Transcendental Folk" (not quite a euphemism for "new age," happily), was often -- well, almost always -- done to cringe-inducing effect, except for the Incredible String Band whose music almost inexplicably still commands the power to move listeners and to soften the stone hearts of critics.

If not for everybody, Break in the Clouds is better than it ought to be, which means that it can be enjoyed without herbal or other consciousness-enhancing assistance. It may be, as the saying goes, that you need to be in a certain mood to appreciate it. Still, that beats the kind of music for which no mood ever exists at all. Then again, I don't mean to sound overly begrudging about this. Over my natural resistance, Break makes for surprisingly pleasing listening. I guess I'm still a hippie after all these years.

music review by
Jerome Clark

28 January 2012

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