After thirteen years, over 3,000 live performances, a few minor line-up shuffles, and countless broken hearts, Jupiter Coyote's eighth studio release The Hillary Step--a new studio CD/live DVD combo package--unveils a raw emotional transparency that heretofore has never been exposed by the Brevard, NC quintet.

The last 200 feet of the climb before reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, first ascended by Sir Edmund Hillary, is called The Hillary Step--the point at which climbers reach the top, go back down, or die. With this release the band is going for broke, trying to capture the rightful acclaim, which has thus far evaded them, despite seven prior releases, which consistently demonstrated their virtuosity. The Hillary Step is the project they hope will catapult them to a higher level of recognition, and it delivers the kind of sound, style, and substance that commands attention.

Whereas most of JC's prior studio efforts have been recorded with the intention of replicating their live sound, The Hillary Step is more of a tapestry sewn together in the studio that would be difficult to reproduce in a live setting. Matthew Mayes, JC co-founder, says, "The Hillary Step is sort of our Pet Sounds." While maintaining the essential Jupiter Coyote "mountain rock" flavor, the new songs are embellished with layers of vocal harmonies and instrumental effects, which reinforce the meanings of the songs and give them a hauntingly mystical surrealism. This tapestry blends varying and colorful moods with lyrics that depict "life hidden in melody"--a term Mayes uses to describe the personal experiences that appear in allegories which parallel his own life.

The CD opens with trap kit octopus Noel Felty's composition "A Little Like Me," a self effacing lament on how much easier he could understand the world if everybody else was just a little more "like me." The next song, "Nothing To Prove," penned by Matthew Mayes, is probably the foremost reason I alluded to "emotional transparency" earlier. This song is a triumphant, exuberant expression of gratitude from a man who is realizing his dreams. "Looks like what's meant to be is giving him just what he needs," he sings, and in the newlywed Matt's case, that's "Mov(ing) to the hills with a pretty bride and a kid or two." This song ends with guitarist John Felty's beautiful overdubbed vocal.

The second of Noel Felty's three contributions to The Hillary Step, "Fool's Tale" is an ingenious arrangement about one hell of a rough night with the bottle, and contains one of his uncle John Felty's finest guitar solos. Next is the Mayes composition "Tattoo," a classic Jupiter Coyote rocker with a blistering John Felty slide guitar solo. Magic always occurs when a glass tube slides over Felty's third finger.

It's hard to say, but "Today" may be the greatest artistic achievement of Jupiter Coyote to date. This Noel Felty song would require 29 musicians to be duplicated on stage. Serene and wistful, this composition simply must be heard to be believed. Acoustic and electric instruments are woven together with the emotive violin of Mr. Steve Trismen, whose subtle, dexterous contributions to this project are incalculable. The album closes with the Celtic-influenced, poignant and stoic instrumental "Fade," which does indeed fade away, leaving the listener feeling like a weary but triumphant sojourner having crossed over The Hillary Step.

The second disk in the package is a two and a half hour live DVD called Jammin' at the Jammer, recorded at the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms, SC, in April 2003. It's a piece of magic captured on an evening where the band was in fine form. The band was joined on stage for the entire performance by the renowned percussionist Count Mbutu, who performs on every song of the Hillary Step; for one song by Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish; and Hank Futch and Bobby Houck of The Blue Dogs. This release is worth its modest price for either disc alone, but the two together are a terrific value, available from www.jupitercoyote.com or www.freshtracksmusic.com for only about $20.

Walter Early
JamBase | North Carolina
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 3/24/04]

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