I can think of dozens of reasons to hate Euforquestra and their debut album The Adventures of Glen Devey, starting with the headache I get when I try to pronounce the band's name. Yet the more I listened, the more I realized I was smiling, and after repeatedly reaching the end and diving in once more, the smile just got bigger and bigger.
The album is, if anything, very ambitious. Sounds and music are culled from all over the globe, starting with "Sea Miner" which combines Spanish and Latin rhythms with a dash of Eastern European flavor. Along the way, the Euforquestra world extends to Jamaica and Africa, to Appalachia and Ireland. In the wrong hands, this ambition could end in miserable failure. Indeed, after the first three tracks which bounce from "Sea Miner's" instrumental flavor (more Broadway musical than world-inflected jazz-rock) to a sanitized reggae (more McFerrin, Bob than Marley, Bob) to "Mandolin Medley" (a jumble of Celtic and bluegrass), I wasn't quite sure what to make of Glen Devey. Though just as they were about to lose me, as if it were an intentional slight of hand, it all started to make sense. The seams disappeared, and I smiled.
It's difficult to put your finger on exactly what makes this album good. Perhaps it's easier to say what it is not than to say what it is. Euforquestra is not jazz, rock, prog, or world, but it combines many of these elements. Euforquestra is not a lot of solos and egocentric wanking. Euforquestra is not jammy, per se, although there is a freedom in the music, and the guitarist, Mike Tallman, is dripping in Anastasiosity (in a good way). Euforquestra is not a typical assemblage of musicians, consisting of drums, bass, guitar, pianos, and keyboards, but adding in multiple horns and a Latin-flavored percussion as well as banjos and mandolins where appropriate. Euforquestra does not require you to wrap your brain around their songs, although they are dense in composition with heady changes and interplay. Perhaps most amazingly, Euforequestra is not derivative in the least; they've got their own sound, which is an accomplishment in itself.
The Adventures of Glen Devey is like an excellent compilation of short stories from an author someday destined to write a great novel or two. It is not yet that great novel, but no less enjoyable. Each track is a self-contained journey: "Medicine Bow Run" is a near-funky instrumental that churns on percussion and guitar, allowing successive stretches of horns and keys to swirl around a central theme. "Penny" shows another, gentler side of the band with sweetly harmonized vocals over acoustic guitar and minimal rhythms. This leads straight into the slow-building, full-band instrumental conversation of "Red Feather," my highlight of the disc. Major, bright guitar work weaves with the long notes of a tenor saxophone and electric piano to accompany miles of interstate, passionate kissing, or introspective self-study. The title track mashes a country cowboy tale with multiple prog-ish passages in would-be epic fashion, falling a touch short of its intended grandiosity, but like the album as a whole, worthwhile nonetheless.
It's not often that a band appears from nowhere (well, Iowa City) and impresses me this much, but if you're looking for a band that does a lot of things right, you could do a lot worse than Euforquestra.
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