On The Derby Ram, Ned Oldham and co. continue their recent foray into Grateful Dead territory. Just as Anomoanon's last disc, Asleep Many Years in the Wood, cherry-picked sounds from two of the Dead's strongest studio recordings, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, The Derby Ram adds some extended psychedelic song structures reminiscent of the Dead or other '60s and early '70s bands. Crucial to their success though, Anomoanon don't cotton to any upbeat, Summer of Love vibe, choosing instead to distil the sounds through a more menacing filter of moonshine stills and backwoods cabins (that all the lyrics are credited as "traditional" seems to heighten the sense of foreboding). The transformation gives the music a sinister edge most flower power jam bands don't carry in their quiver. Songs like "O Lady Wind" and "A Man of Words" begin like typically jaunty country Dead songs (or the tunes on Asleep Many Years in the Wood) before culminating in muddy rave-ups. The first half of the seven-minute-plus "Bourbon Whiskey/The Derby Ram" commences with eerie acoustic guitar runs, disembodied voices (only "whiskey" being perfectly audible), and finally a roar of synth buzz before the title cut kicks in -- an extended swampy blues Creedence Clearwater Revival would have been proud to call their own. On "Forever Evil," a regal 12-string and gentle Traffic/Steve Winwood-like organ morphs into something a rural Alice in Chains might have penned. These jams aren't built around showy solos, but instead full-band noise hootenannies. And this is what makes Anomoanon so intriguing: eschewing the hipster's facile dismissal of all things Grateful Dead-related, Oldham and co. seize upon worthwhile elements from that psychedelic era and combine them with twang-flavored indie noise, emerging with something wholly their own. The band's musicianship, songwriting, and self-awareness seem to grow stronger with each release, suggesting that perhaps someday Will Oldham won't be the most famous Oldham after all.
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AllMusic Review by John Schacht