Four Blocks To Hennepin


Independent release, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes the hype that gets attached to bands verges on the hilarious. "They're the new Rolling Stones!" "She's like Britney Spears, but with talent!" "If you crossed Pearl Jam with a three-eyed, seven-toed, accordion-playing monkey, you'd get this band…" Etc. That makes it all the more notable when a band actually lives up to its billing.

Judging by the press I've read on this group, critics seem to think Terramara sound like the second coming of Steely Dan, with a little Sting in the vocals. And damned if they aren't just about exactly right.

On their sophomore full-length, this Minneapolis, Minnesota quartet lays down some of the most sophisticated, tasty jazz-pop on record since the Dan's heyday, full of tight keyboard-based arrangements, precision playing and rich harmonies.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Steely Dan comparison extends beyond keyboardist-vocalist Rob Meany's smart compositions and the group's sharp arrangements to guitarist Karl Koopman's nimble, tasteful fretwork, heavily reminiscent of Larry Carlton's career-making stint with Steely Dan in the mid-'70s. The beauty is that, despite the many similarities, this album never sounds like a rip-off or a cheap imitation. Rather, it sounds like a musically accomplished band whose chosen niche just happens to be the same one as a well-known precursor.

In terms of specific musical moments that make this album special, I'd point to these: the clean, full vocal arrangement and steady rhythm of opener "Running Down The Avenue"; the delicate funk, sweet horn section and call-and-answer vocals of "Crying Shame"; the hyperactive bass line and soaring chorus of "Black & Grey"; and Koopman's fluid, jazzy solos on "Rajasthan" and "Freedom." As for the Sting thing, it does sound rather like Mr. Sumner's work when Meany holds some long high notes toward the end of "Rise & Fall," though a fair bit of Bruce Hornsby is also evident in his delivery on these tracks.

The element that makes this disc stand out from the crowd, though, is the aura of sophistication the music carries throughout. The playing is crisp and precise, the production equally so. As with Steely Dan, this makes the moments when the lyrics grow incisive stand out that much more. "You're cool, your friends think it's funny / Thick shades cuz the forecast is sunny / You think twice that it's all about money / Don't you think someone could love you?" sings Meany in "Running Down The Avenue," and the question lingers to the very end.

Four Blocks To Hennepin is forty minutes of snappy, beautifully arranged jazz-pop that offers an urbane, sardonic wisdom that's beyond the reach of most mainstream acts today. And it marks Terramara as a group that bears watching -- and listening to.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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