With New Deal, the Tony Trischka Band has put together a collection of tunes that, while firmly rooted in American folk music, constantly pushes the boundaries of that genre. Without delving too deeply into jam-band territory, Trischka and his band seem to have taken to heart some of the components of that style while managing to maintain an individual sound. By avoiding the excess noodling that has become so endemic to the jam-band movement and taking a more compositional and melodic approach, the group creates a sound that is undoubtedly all their own.
Formed in 1997, TTB has toured extensively, and the group's cohesion is evident on this album. While Trischka's banjo is clearly the focal point, and deservedly so, he allows ample space for his bandmates to strut their stuff as well. Saxist Michael Amendola's playing adds a nice timbre, and Rolf Sturm's guitar work and gruff vocals are strong throughout. The musical material is quite diverse, from the bluegrass standard "Earl's Breakdown" to the shuffle blues "44" and the balladesque "Arizona." Loudon Wainwright III shines with a guest vocal on "Hand Me My Banjo Down."
While the variety on the album is admirable, it sometimes feels a bit forced. Amendola's "Big Papa Rides Again" is straight out of the James Brown playbook, and the East Asian-sounding "Quasi Qoto," while a nice contrast to the surrounding tunes, also comes off as a bit contrived. Where the band feels most comfortable and the music seems most sincere are on Trischka tunes like "Northern Falling" and "Fair Lawn Justice," where all five players sound like they are in familiar territory. It is when they wander too far away from their roots that the band sounds a bit lost.
Despite this, New Deal is a solid effort from a group that clearly is aiming to eschew labels when it comes to their music, and when they are at their best, they do so quite successfully.