The New Song

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Townhall, a Philadelphia, PA, quintet, is a creative, sophisticated band who has no interest in boundaries or categories. Like the jam bands of yore and the current crop of long-winded music-makers, they blend various genres of music on their debut album, but unlike their contemporaries (Phish, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Mr. Bungle, Leftover Salmon, etc.), they have the ability to actually write songs that stand on their own apart from musical improvisation. Their melodic sense is inseparable from their musicianship. Plus they are funky -- groove is inherently important in everything they do. The album opens with "Confusion," a horn-driven funker with trombones, trumpets, and clarinets sparely issuing a call to the lyric as the upfront bass and drums call the guitar into the mix. George Stanford, who fronts the band as vocalist and trombonist (most of the time), knows how to phrase to such a greasy backdrop. On "Premonitions," the very next cut, dubby reggae bass and double-time scattershot drums create a backdrop of a melody to get down into; the horns fill in the backgrounds and the guitar provides a happening middle bridge to hold everything together. Other standouts are the haunting ballad "Ellie Mae"; the title track, which sounds like a Latin band meeting a bluegrass group who wants to be a soul band; and the beautiful Al Green-styled soul of "Chevy." No, Stanford can't sing as well, but his expressiveness, sensitivity, and under-delivery are reminiscent. In all, this is as fine a debut as you are likely to find if musical adventure is your thing. This is passionately played, wonderfully executed, and cannily creative music by a band in full command of their abilities. Recommended.

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