With a tamboura drone and an insistent bass ostinato, One Step Ahead of the Spider opens with a sound reminiscent of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin's My Goals Beyond, but the spoken word narration that commences soon afterwards (mostly courtesy of singer-guitarist Mark Griffin) places this record in completely different territory. The vocals on this record are often quite entertaining, as in "Tiptoe Through the Inferno" (sample lyric: "Do not make the mistake of believing that I am the person who is speaking to you now/I am not; that is to say N-O-T/This is an indisputable fact that has been scientifically proven"), but sometimes the drawled delivery and shaky pitch don't work. A good example of this is the band's cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Stare and Stare," where the presence of guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid helps to liven up the slightly awkward vocal performance by Griffin. However, the emphasis on One Step Ahead of the Spider is most definitely the groove and, with drummer Earl Harvin, Jr. assisted by Mike Dillon and Nikhil Pandya (on congas and tablas, respectively), the vibe is somewhere in between Bitches Brew and a neo-hippie drum circle, with a little '70s funk thrown into the mix for good measure. The Miles Davis connection really becomes obvious on "Bill's Dream," which sounds for all the world like an outtake from In a Silent Way. The almost ambient album-closer "Rhubarb" is a strong, enchanting song, with vocals that sound like they were recorded on a boom box. The cryptic conversation heard on this track closes the album out with a mysterious vibe, mirroring the haunting opener, "New Moon." One Step Ahead of the Spider is an eclectic mix of serious and humorous elements, of hipper-than-thou narration and funk-trance instrumentation, making for a unique sound. It's not a bad album by any means, but there is a bit of a dearth of really strong ideas to go with the creative concept. Worth searching out.
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AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre