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Sticks and Stones

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Album Review

For better or for worse, moe. has always been a live band. Studio albums from such groups have a tradition of being iffy affairs, as the musicians involved suddenly find themselves without an audience, without applause, and without the artistic license to improvise to their hearts' content. During the early 2000s, moe. battled the confinements of the studio by combining live performances with recorded tracks, creating a sort of compromise between the flexibility of a live show and the crispness of a studio product. Albums like Wormwood and Conch benefited from this approach, but 2008's Sticks and Stones is a different animal entirely. Recorded in three short weeks inside a New England church, it focuses exclusively on moe. as a studio outfit. The group's songwriting has matured since the '90s (when the majority of their studio work was released), which helps Sticks and Stones come across as a progressive step forward despite its relaxed, somewhat subdued sound. There are no extended drum solos here, no improvised guitar riffs, and only a handful of long, instrumental passages. Instead, the quintet channels the radio-ready classic rock of the Grateful Dead and the Eagles, complete with pleasing (if slightly imperfect) harmonies, tight songcraft, and plenty of guitar muscle. Working with the studio rather than in spite of it, the band pulls of a number of tricks that simply wouldn't work in a live setting, from the acoustic fretwork of "September" (one of the most haunting, striking ballads they've ever attempted) to the footstomps and fiddles of the Celtic drinking song "Raise Your Glass." The tunes are short and concise, with as much emphasis placed on the bandmates' vocals — which sound better here than they ever do live — as their instrumental skills. So while Sticks and Stones is a change from the band's live catalog, it's certainly a welcome one, and it's been years since moe. sounded this well rounded.


Formed: 1991

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Rising from the dingy college bars of upstate New York, moe. carved a niche for themselves with a distinct blend of Americana, melodic turns, clever songwriting, and jam band ethics. The bandmates were born and raised in the industrial town of Utica, but it took matriculation at the University of Buffalo for moe. to finally coalesce. Founded in 1990 by bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak, guitarist/vocalist Chuck Garvey, and original drummer Ray Schwartz, the band toured the university's party circuit under...
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