June 2001

Drums and Tuba
Vinyl Killer
Righteous Babe

Drums & Tuba isn't really a duo at all considering that guitarist Neal McKeeby sits in on every track. Nevertheless, you don't run across a lineup of guitar, drums and tuba everyday. To its credit, the band doesn't exploit the novelty instrumentation for cheap effect, though it would have been easy to do. Instead, they bury what could have been a unique group sound under layers of processing and studio effects-spacey organ sounds, electro-bleeps, reverb-and trot through lightweight tunes. Most of this music could have been made with a halfway decent drummer and a bank of synthesizers.

Folk-punk priestess and unabashed funk fan Ani DiFranco put this one out on her own label, Righteous Babe, and it's easy to understand why. The group lays their electric jam/jazz/dance thing over an earthy and acoustic, tuba-anchored rhythm section; in theory, it's Medeski, Martin, and Wood meets the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Not a bad marketing strategy, but the realization falls somewhat short. The band tries to sustain interest by varying the vibe track to track. "The Diagram" borrows the manic pulse of modern electronica; "Royronus" sheds some of the effects and salvages some jam-band wackiness. But because the band contents themselves with tunes built from repetitious melodic loops, texture and atmosphere and seldom feel the urge to stray at all afield, Vinyl Killer becomes wearying very quickly.

Originally published in June 2001
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