For all the immortality it imparts, rock & roll has a way of taking its practitioners before their time. Like the Who, Metallica, and many more before them, the Dave Matthews Band have faced the sudden loss of a founding member: Saxophonist LeRoi Moore died last August from injuries incurred in an ATV accident, midway through the recording of their latest album. His spirit and his sound looms large, however, on Big Whiskey. The GrooGrux King of the title references Moore, as does the figure at the center of Whiskey's intricate cover art (drawn by Matthews himself); his sweet, solitary sax flourishes even bookend the album.
Moore's death is also undoubtedly the reason that a group best known for its jammy, freewheeling geniality floats some uncharacteristically heavy vibes here, resulting in several jarring tonal shifts. The tense, mournful ''Time Bomb,'' foreboding ''Squirm,'' and dopey philosophy-lite lead single, ''Funny the Way It Is,'' all reflect with varying success on the vagaries of fate, while the swamp-rocky ''Alligator Pie'' puzzlingly alternates grim references to Hurricane Katrina and shout-outs to one of Matthews' young daughters. When the focus turns romantic, and at times even explicitly sexual, the horn-laden ''Shake Me Like a Monkey'' and salacious ''Seven'' play rowdy yin to the tender, intimate yang of ''You and Me'' and ''My Baby Blue.'' Throughout, the spectre of death rarely recedes, but life embodied by the proto-DMB revelry of ''Why I Am'' still prevails. B
Download This: Listen to the song Time Bomb at last.fm