Various Artists

Bonnaroo, Vol. 2

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The second volume of the Bonnaroo Festival anthology series is composed of some lesser-known acts on the jam band circuit as well as some new and interesting conflagrations of better-known personages. For starters, there's Les Claypool's absolutely amazing Col. Claypools Bucket of Brains with Bernie Worrell, Buckethead, and Brain. Their "Number Two" is a funky acid jam that strides a groove and a guitar and rhythm section freak-out into oblivion. Former Greyboy Allstars Karl Denson's Tiny Universe is the funkiest acid jazz band on the planet, as evidenced here by "Straussmania." Denson's trademark isn't only rhythm, it's his genuine soul approach to improvisation. Basses pop, keyboards shimmer, drums flash sparks, and occasionally Denson's saxophone work winds through it all with its sweet but honking tone. The Rhodes piano solos, here undercut by the Sly Stone-style bass throb, create such a huge backdrop for the horn section that the groove is purely viral. There's some crap here, too, especially in the overblown and purposely wry humor of Keller Williams. His approach is just too precious to be widely accessible; its quirk is in its self-referencing more than anything else. Drums & Tuba's "Air Con Dee" is a welcome bit of dissonant funkiness with sonic-terror punching piercing the groove at nearly every turn. The Big Wu is no more than a bad String Cheese Incident. Col. Bruce Hampton's Code Talkers, like his other bands, have plenty that's interesting about them, and this band gels in a more deliberate, cohesive way than most of his other units have. And, while there are other acts here as well, the standout track here is the Campbell Brothers' "Steel Crazy." One of the House of God Church's finest pedal steel bands -- they both play the instrument and duel in the same way Dickey Betts and Duane Allman did -- this is bona fide hard rock jamming of the first order. These cats scream and squeal, moan and drone, and punch and slap each other with a rhythm section pumping them to the breaking point. In fact, despite the fact that there are a few loser tracks, most of the stuff here is quite good -- more consistent than volume one, actually. Double Robert Randolph & the Family Band and you have a glimpse of what this sounds like. Amazing!

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