Rusted Root

Paul Wong

Welcome to My Party

Island Records

Almost time for Hash Bash already? Oh man, just when you got the smell of weed out of your favorite tie-dye and Dad’s old jean jacket. Comes earlier and earlier every year doesn’t it dude?

To coincide with Ann Arbor’s annual dance with Lady Ganja, Pittsburgh’s favorite Jam-meisters, Rusted Root, will be releasing their fourth album, Welcome To My Party, April 9th. Even though Root has continued its omnipresent touring cycle, Welcome is the band’s first studio record in four years and their first since switching labels from Polygram to Island.

Despite its cult following and reputation for selling out theaters, the multi-instrumentalist group has found the success of their major label debut, 1994s When I Woke, elusive. That record went platinum, largely due to the hit “Send Me On My Way,” and opened doors, allowing the band to warm up for Page and Plant on their comeback tour, as well as gaining them a spot on the Horde Tours.

Welcome seems formulated to recuperate that initial flirt with mainstream commercial success. Original member, vocalist Jenn Wertz has rejoined the group and Bill Bottrell, best known for producing Sheryl Crow, When I Woke and co-writing “Black or White” for Michael Jackson, is back behind the boards.

However, Bottrell’s commercially-geared production hurts the record, stifling the sextet when he should be rejuvenating them and failing to capture their live energy. Welcome comes across as too tidy and slick – too “Hey VH1, look at me!” The result is an album of listenable, if over-polished and unspectacular material. The shame here is that lead singer/songwriter Michael Glabicki has crafted his most consistent collection of songs to date, but the over-refinement of Bottrell’s production obscures this.

While Root’s more traditional sound came from a mixture of various rock genres and multicultural rhythms, Welcome makes an ill-advised decision to separate styles, with uneven results. Funk seems a pretty safe pick on “Union 7” and “Weave,” as does the straight ahead folk-rock of “Sweet Mary.” Reggae and pop balladry are both toss-ups though, with “Women Got My Money,” and the title track coming across better than “Too Much” and “Blue Diamonds.”

The trademark percussion instrumentals are foregone in favor of an experiment with electronic drum loops. Again it’s not terrible by any means, just unremarkable. Root usually leans heavily on their rhythm section in live performances, but their unique abilities are largely glossed over here.

It makes sense that Rusted Root wants to expand their range and move past the jam-band scene. Making doped-up hippie kids noodle dance isn’t particularly challenging. A flute solo here, a conga fill there, and they’ll shake their unwashed, suburban asses. But Welcome To My Party isn’t really a departure and in their hearts Root knows they need their hardcore fans in the long run. So, when the band rolls into the Michigan on May 1, expect the jamming to be there the same as always, but check out if the songs from Welcome benefit or suffer as a result. The difference will prove crucial for the band’s future.

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