The Waybacks,
Way Live
(Fiddling Cricket, 2003)

I confess that to me the phrase "jam band" is pretty much synonymous with "big snore." The Waybacks, from California, are a jam band, but they're not bad. They play -- except for Chuck Hamilton's drums and percussion -- instruments usually associated with bluegrass: acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddle, stand-up bass. But bluegrass inflections aside, this isn't bluegrass, and that's not just because there's no banjo in sight. The Waybacks borrow from various genres -- bluegrass, of course, but also jazz, swing, Brazilian, John Fahey-style guitar and 1970s country-rock -- without putting roots deeply into any of them.

The instrumental material is more interesting than the bland vocals, which are not the only part of the band that echoes the Grateful Dead sans feedback, crunchy electric guitars and psychedelic flourishes. The Waybacks -- Hamilton, Stevie Coyle, Joe Kyle Jr., James Nash and Chojo Jacques -- are accomplished players, and they swing with ease and charm. The jams tend not to go on beyond the point of reason, no doubt because of the band's keen and unfailing melodic sense.

My own tastes run more to straight-ahead, traditional bluegrass, but I certainly don't judge that to be the only worthy genre of acoustic vernacular music. New approaches done well ought to be welcome to anyone who cares about good music, wherever it comes from. For the most part, except for the not terribly inspired singing, the Waybacks do it well enough. I suspect, however, that Deadheads and their fellow travelers, in whose ranks I have never counted myself, are the band's target audience.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 26 March 2005

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