Artist: Band: Hippie Grenade
Album: Fix the Roof
Sounds Like: Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Frank Zappa; Miles Davis (Bitches Brew)
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: 5:45, Eye On You; Paper Tiger
Like this band’s supercharged, incongruous name, this disc veers wildly. And it’s a propulsive adventure that fits varying contexts – I’ve used it as a wake-up call at work and to set a Saturday afternoon party vibe.
Within one song, “5:45,” you will find all that is great and unique about Hippie Grenade: a frenetic opening that reminds me of a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones excursion, a solid groove section anchored by the wacky refrain “Jesus lives on in John Tesh,” a gospelish blues break … then things really get cooking in the free-for-all jam.
The deep-in-the-groove title cut and the just-barely-in-control jazz-funk beasts “Fire” and “Skytrain” answer a question that I’m sure has vexed so many of us: What would have happened if Frank Zappa had led James Brown’s Famous Flames?
In the seven or so years I’ve been writing about music, I’ve never heard anything that reminds me of the old Blood, Sweat, and Tears vinyl LP I discovered in my parents’ collection … until the rich, soulful “Eye On You,” a showcase for Bhi Bhiman’s powerhouse vocal that builds to a big ensemble ending fueled by Mani Vafaei’s sax. “In the Jungle” and the leave-it-all-on-the-stage album closer “Drunk in Brooklyn” are heavier takes on the same style – think BS&T cutting loose into a Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” frenzy.
The jazz-by-way-of-the-Middle-East “Aggrabah,” is a fascinating workout, as is the gypsy-esque “Interlude” (which reminds me mightily of the Grateful Dead’s “Slipknot!”). Whoever shreds the guitar solo on “Interlude” (either Bhiman or Theo Winston, maybe both) deserves notice.
There’s some metallic weirdness here, too – “Ichiro” (yeah, I think it’s about the baseball player) and “Paper Tiger” pack a powerful wallop courtesy of Chris Thalman’s drums. On “Tiger,” I particularly like the give-and-take between Steven Reilly’s slinky electric piano chords and Bhiman’s full-throttle wailing.
Fix the Roof might be too heavy for your typical hippie, but a jam-band aficionado looking for something edgier than his usual fare will be richly rewarded by this disc.