Terra Firma

Acoustic Syndicate

Sugar Hill Records, 2003


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Acoustic Syndicate is living proof that you can't make assumptions based on liner notes. On the surface, it's easy to pigeonhole this band; they're on Sugar Hill Records, they have a lead banjo player, must be newgrass or bluegrass, right? Wrongo, buddy. Acoustic Syndicate is a mixed-breed bastard of a band, likely to cut back and forth without warning from roots music to pop grooves that put you in mind of the best of Dave Matthews or Blues Traveler. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Terra Firma, their newest release, is a tight and tasty bit of genuine musical novelty, a band of real rural musicians who between recording suggestions and tour dates put up canned goods and hold family hoedowns (three of the four band members are cousins). Add to this bucolic intermixture some real talent, and this is a band and a CD to cherish.

The musicianship is impeccable. The first and strongest note is that of lead vocalist Steve "Big Daddy" McMurry, whose soaring, powerful vocals put one in mind of a gospel-tinged Gordon Lightfoot. Weave into that some of the best harmonies I've heard in a very long time and what you have is nothing short of magic. Of course, once you get past that, there's another delight to discover in the banjo of Bryon McMurry. The band's official bio says it best; Bryon plays banjo like a guitar player, and evokes sounds that some traditional musicians would be hard-pressed to back-engineer, much less reproduce. The bass and percussion are solid and well-mixed; there's no complaints to be had at all in the album's sound.

There's only one hurdle left, the songs… and they're pure gold. The arching, aching harmonies of "The Ballad of Marie St Laurette," the tongue-in-cheek social commentary of "Vanity," the bright, intense "Commentary," the brooding "One Way"…twelve tracks and twelve hits. There are no misses here, no weak spots; Terra Firma is magnificent. Add in some surprises like the soprano saxophone on "Fleeting Moments," and the package is complete.

This is a strong contender to show up on this year's Top Ten list. Don't miss it.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2003 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.