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The Big Wu

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Album Review

Many of the hip-hop, dance-pop, and urban contemporary artists that emerged in the '80s and '90s are so technology-minded and studio-oriented that they don't fare nearly as well on-stage as they do on their studio recordings. In the worst cases, they sound downright awkward in a live setting because they are unsuccessfully trying to turn the stage into the studio. But many of today's post-Grateful Dead jam bands have the opposite problem; they come alive on-stage but don't sound nearly as comfortable on their studio albums. Unfortunately, some of those Dead disciples are so jam-minded that they haven't really cultivated their songwriting skills. The Big Wu, like other jam bands, lives for the stage, but thankfully doesn't fall apart in the studio. While Wu's second album Folktales isn't a masterpiece, the writing is generally decent. Clearly, Wu comes from the Dead/Kingfish/New Riders school of laid-back country-rock, but the Minneapolis residents have some substantial ideas of their own. Wu combines its Dead worship with a healthy appreciation of world music; "Angie O'Plasty" has a slightly Celtic outlook, while other songs draw on calypso/soca, ska, and modern African pop. Tracks like "Shanty Town" and "Two Person Chair" give the impression that Wu's members have spent a lot of time checking out the pop sounds of Southern Africa. Again, Folktales isn't a gem, but it's pleasant and demonstrates that a post-Dead jam band can bring decent songwriting skills to the jam band aesthetic.


Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Jam band the Big Wu formed on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN in 1992 around the nucleus of singer/guitarist Chris Castino, guitarist Jason Fladager and drummer Terry VanDeWalker. Channeling a wide range of influences including bluegrass, rock, jazz, psychedelia and R&B, the group built a strong local following thanks to a rigorous live schedule, adding bassist Andy Miller in 1995 and keyboardist Al Oikari a year later. In early 1996 the Big Wu also landed their first weekly...
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Folktales, The Big Wu
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