Author: Varner, Marty

Milk Drive's new album

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of seeing one of the best young edge bands out today, Milk Drive, at my local restaurant, Don Quixote’s. I had seen them a few years earlier at IBMA. At that time it was difficult not to hear the buzz about them, and I was not disappointed either time.

This band centered in Austin Texas is a four piece where each member is a contest winner at his instrument. This recipe has created a band that is highly influenced by jazz, which they accomplish so well since they are so instrumentally talented. I hadn’t bought their new album yet, but as soon as I heard them in concert I was assured that I needed it, and I was not disappointed. This album is more varied than their live sets and even includes a Beatles song. Their album Waves, I believe is better than their previous release and shows the growth they have done as band which I believe will launch them to a new level. Perhaps they will perform at the Father’s Day Festival in the future.

The first song on the album begins with the fiddle by itself before the whole band jumps into a groove where they trade licks until the lyrics come in. ‘Papers on the Table’ is very modal but also has a very cool chord progression that includes a half step walk and chords that sound unison to the melody. The song has a great groove that keeps one’s head nodding and humming the melody. Another depth of this song is the chorus that fills each human’s instinctual need to have a minor resolve to a major, but in a different way than the traditional techniques. The solos on this song are both very notey, yet tasteful from the mandolin player, Dennis Ludiker and the fiddle player and vocalist Brian Beken.

The next song is the title track called, of course, “Waves”. The song begins with a nice background lick by the guitar player, Noah Jeffries, and vocals. The sound to this song is almost the opposite of the last as it sounds similar to a modern poppy rock song, but in the best way possible. They leave the middle open for an instrumental bridge, which features string burning fiddle licks, again from Brian. It ends with the ultimate tension and release, which is of course strumming harder and harder until the song ends.

The next song, “Leavin’” is probably the closest one to a traditional Monroesque bluegrass song, but that doesn’t mean it is. It is a simple 1,4,5,6 minor that results in a very nice melodic melody that is very easy for these masters of their instruments to rip on. It also has a bridge that moves into a chorus where Brian’s voice is only accompanied by Noah’s guitar again, which is a really good technique since on most songs they lack a banjo so it is hard for them to become loud without first starting quiet.

When I got to the 7th track, I was thinking that their album was not as jazzy as I anticipated, and in a way I was disappointed. When I saw them live it was obvious they were able to play jazz and that it highlighted their instrumental talents well, but that all changed. The 7th track on the album is written by the mandolin player, Dennis Ludiker, and features a very special banjo player, Noam Pikelny, who is the banjo player for the supreme musicians and super group, The Punch Brothers. The song begins with a frilly lick that ends on the 7 and definitely has shows a heavy jazz influence especially when basically random notes follow it. But after that, it goes into this weird spacey jam that is more melodic than jazzy, but also resolves well when they go back to the jazz part of the song. The bass player, Matt Mefford deserves a lot of credit for keeping the many different rhythms in this song tight so that it doesn’t crash as burn. This song also features the guitar playing of Noah more than any other, which I was waiting for through the album. Noam fits well within the song, adding a final solo that shows off his incredibly complex banjo playing that can’t be done by many. And just when you think the song is going to end, when it slows down, it speeds up with a final jolt almost like a horror character after it has been shot, stabbed, poisoned, and electrocuted.

Personally, even though their original songs are varied and show song writing talent, the best song on the album is their Beatles cover, “Dear Prudence,” with Roy ‘Futureman’ Wooten. The song’s groove is possibly better than the original because of they way they divide the responsibilities between each member. After the chorus there is that little hole, and right there they enter a heavy jam with a bluesy pull off lick from Noah that leads into his solo, which is the climax of this song, and possibly the album. This song perfectly represents everything Milk Drive has to offer, solid harmonies, complex arrangements, and incredible instrumentalists that I hope will help this band have success for many years to come.

Posted:  8/3/2013

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