Acoustic Syndicate

Terra Firma

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One might guess at a glance that Acoustic Syndicate isn't a jam band. They usually avoid extensive noodling on their studio albums, and with one exception, all of the pieces on Terra Firma clock in at five minutes or less. The band's fusion of styles (jazz, rock, folk, and world) and lyrics (celebrating the mysteries of life) nonetheless qualify it as a jam band. Like the String Cheese Incident, the group seems to relish juxtaposing disparate instruments (banjos and saxophones) on a song like "Red Birds" to create a surprising blend of bluegrass roots and contemporary jazz. This blend offers the right kind of support to Steve McMurry, who handles most of the lead vocals. His voice has an airy, soulful quality, and he sings each phrase with the utmost earnestness. Like Donna the Buffalo, the band's lyrics aim at the bigger questions in life and they don't mind getting philosophical with their answers. At times this is blatantly straightforward: "Make good use of our time, it won't last forever," McMurry sings in "Fleeting Moments." At other times, the band remains frustratingly vague: "One way will show/One way we'll know," the singer offers in "One Way." For listeners accustomed to Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon, however, these lyrics achieve the right balance. Terra Firma's musical and lyrical approach finds Acoustic Syndicate taking a confident step toward, forging a distinct style within the crowded jam band field.

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