When singer Dan Haseltine talks about If I Left The Zoo, the current CD by his band Jars of Clay, the word fun is never too far removed from his conversation. Part of the reason that word is so prevalent is simply because the group, which also includes keyboardist Charlie Lowell and guitarists Stephen Mason and Matthew Odmark, had a very good time making the CD. But the fun factor also reflects a period that preceded the "If I Left The Zoo" project.
On the surface, Jars of Clay, who come to the Opera House this Saturday night, seem to have always been moving ahead smoothly. In 1995 they became the first Christian band to cross over to mainstream rock when their self-titled CD spawned the radio hit "Flood" and went on to reach two million in sales. Facing the heightened expectations that came with that initial success, the group responded with the 1997 CD, Much Afraid, which also topped one million in sales and earned the band a Grammy Award for pop/contemporary gospel album of the year.
But within the band, life wasn't all giggles and smiles. "When we did Much Afraid, it was written and recorded in a time where a lot of us were kind of sick of being around each other," Haseltine says. "We had just done, like, 300 [concert] dates the year before, just really kind of burned ourselves out. And there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that we enjoyed playing the clubs and bars and doing that kind of thing. We didn't quite fit into what most people would have thought a Christian band would do."
Haseltine says that the band began to reconsider whether what they were doing even really mattered. "There was definitely a time after the first record where we kind of just thought is this really something that we feel is important, what we're doing?" Haseltine reveals. "Are we having an impact? Is this really worth us kind of pursuing these relationships [in the band]? And for awhile, we sort of said 'Nah, it doesn't really seem like it's worth it.' But I think what we've done is we've realized how important these friendships are and how important playing this music is, if not for anyone else, for us."
The renewed chemistry between the four band members was immediately apparent in their approach to making If I Left The Zoo. To begin the project, Haseltine, Lowell, Mason and Odmark left their homes -- and wives -- in Nashville in February 1999 and rented a house in Decorah, a small town in northeastern Iowa that is home to Luther College. There they began writing songs for the new CD.
Always known for a poppy acoustic sound that has prompted frequent comparisons to Toad The Wet Sprocket, Jars Of Clay pursue an edgier, more lively sound on If I Left The Zoo. The approach is particularly effective on the song "Unforgetful You" (the CD's lead single), which features grooving electric guitar riffs and one of the hookiest melodies the band members have ever crafted. On "Collide," the band deftly uses a driving guitar riff to balance the gentle, folky textures that form the backdrop for much of the song. Other songs, notably "Goodbye, Goodnight" and "I'm Alright," are significant departures for the group.
The group's renewed enthusiasm for the creative process was also evident in the decision to enlist Dennis Herring, who's known for his work with Counting Crows, to produce If I Left The Zoo. Herring was chosen, in part, because he wanted to push Jars of Clay creatively throughout the project.
"When we met with him [Herring] it was real exciting to hear what he had to say just about wanting to have our personalities show up more in the music," says Haseltine. "He said he really liked Much Afraid, but he couldn't really tell who was doing what. From a personality standpoint, it was a very sterile album, just really kind of pristine and super clean. What he wanted to do was just have it (the new CD) be a bit more loose and really show our personalities."
& & & lt;i & Jars of Clay play at the Spokane Opera House with Jennifer Knapp and Luna Halo on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $19.50-$28.50. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
& & Copa Cubana & & & &
Cubanismo is an all-star Latin ensemble that manages to meld the rhythmic and melodic elements utilized by Cuban jazz players of the '40s with more modern sensibilities. The result is often stunning -- scorching dance music that sounds contemporary without descending into pop fusion. The group performs at The Met this Friday.
Led by trumpeter, Jesus Alemany, the 15-piece orchestra features what are widely considered to be some of the finest Cuban musicians performing in the world today. Alemany's horn often carries the melody but this is Latin, baby, and so it goes without saying that Cubanismo's mostly original arrangements are heavily reliant on rhythmic instruments. Leading the squad responsible for nailing down the beats is world-renowned conguero, Tata Guines. He is joined by bassist Carlos del Puerto, Carlos Godines on clave and Emilio del Monte on timbales.
Cubanismo as an expression refers to something that is unique to the island country. But though the band has roots deep in Cuban tradition, they are also products of the intermingling of various Afro-Caribbean styles (rumba, cha-cha, mambo and son) with those more widely accepted as American -- specifically, New Orleans R & amp;B and Mississippi delta blues.
The group's most recent recording, entitled Marti Gras Mambo, in fact, celebrates the shared musical and cultural heritage of Havana and New Orleans. Co-produced by Alemany, producer Joe Boyd and Yockamo All Stars' Mark Bingham, the album is full of tight instrumental hybrids -- with appropriately hybridized titles including "Cuborleans," "Gumbo Son" and "Boogaloo."
With the recent increased interest in Latin music (partially attributable to the popularity of such Cuban ensembles as the Buena Vista Social Club), Cubanismo is enjoying a tremendous amount of international success. Don't miss this rare opportunity to check out this expertly performed contemporary Latin music. But remember, this is dance music, pure and simple. So don't expect to keep your butts glued to your seats when this embargo-busting Cuban export cuts loose. That just might prove to be impossible.
& & --Mike Corrigan & &
& & & lt;i & Cubanismo performs at The Met on Friday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $17.50; $15 for seniors and students. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
& & Rebel Yell & & & &
Allette Brooks is a Bay area-based singer/songwriter with a wonderfully expressive voice, a rhythmic guitar style and a way with words. But right now, she's a long way from home.
"I'm currently in Moab, Utah, in case you wanted to know that. The Moab Visitor's Center in the parking lot."
She's currently on a six-week tour of the West and Midwest to support her new self-released CD, Silicon Valley Rebel. When I ask her how many people are in her crew, she sounds momentarily perplexed.
"My crew? You mean the people with me in the van? One. Me and my equipment and boxes of CDs and my little office. You know, I live in here half of the year. It's all me."
Back to Silicon Valley Rebel. The very title suggests something anti-establishment, if not specifically anti-tech. And there is a palpable, political bend to it.
"It's very interesting that you find it political," she responds. "My first CD [1996's Privilege] is way more specifically political and a lot of people say, 'Oh it seems like you've gone way more into the non-political realm'. My personal opinion is that it is political. It's just that I try to be a lot more subtle in the way I'm expressing things."
The title track is about a woman in a life-draining job who not only transcends her position's inherent soulessness, but manages to serve as an inspiration to those around her as well. You can sense her co-worker's desperation in the couplet: "Please don't leave us alone in this silicon hell/Life would be so unbearable without your rebel yell." It's a clever, on target tune delivered with Brooks' trademark combination of sweetness and sass.
"There's nothing overt about it," says Brooks. "It's a story and I think it has its own political implications. It's about a friend of mine and every detail in it is true. I didn't decide I wanted to state this and that. To me, it's just a song about the intersection of two worlds and how they come together and perhaps how Rachel [the song's protagonist] sort of creates social change in her workplace by just being who she is. I do find that there's people all over the place who can identify -- either they know that character in their workplace or they feel that they are that character."
And what about Brooks' workplace? In a music industry currently bulging with female troubadors, how does she see herself fitting in?
"I'm certainly not the type of person who is going to claw their way anywhere. I'm going to work very hard and just continue to do what I'm doing. There is a whole culture of people out there doing it because they love the music and they love interaction with audiences. I hope for a lot of growth in my career, but I don't want to be like Jewel or something. I'm not going at the pop sector. I hope to stay sort of in the independent folkie sector."
& & --Mike Corrigan & &
& & & lt;i & Allette Brooks performs at The Shop, 924 S. Perry on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $4. Call: 534-1647. She also plays at Chic-A-Ria, 1812 W. Francis on Oct. 29 from 8-10 p.m. No cover. Call: 326-2214. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &