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Live At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival

New Monsoon

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Album Review

Five-string banjo, keyboards, electric guitar, electric bass, three percussionists (among them a tabla player) — New Monsoon is one of those bands that could really go either way: either thrillingly eclectic or eye-rollingly earnest and mushily multi-culti. Interestingly, they manage to have it both ways on this live album, recorded at the Telluride festival in June of 2004. They do it by playing music that is genuinely exciting and complex, drawing on multiple cultural influences without sounding like someone's graduate thesis in ethnomusicology or an "eat your peas" lecture on the importance of intercultural exchange. The set-opening "Mountain Air" is New Monsoon at its finest, even if, at 12 minutes, the tune is just a bit long-winded. But then the singing starts. And while vocalist Phil Ferlino is a pretty good singer, the lyrics he sings tend strongly toward a sort of wide-eyed new ageyness that drags the music down, doing embarrassing damage to otherwise perfectly fine songs like "Painted Moon" and the country-inflected "Blue Queen." The instrumental numbers "Velvet Pouch" (with its nicely crafted guitar solos) and "Bridge of the Gods" go some distance toward making up for those missteps, but not quite far enough. Good, but not great.

Live At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, New Monsoon
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