Friday, January 11, 2008

Big Ditch Road - The Jackson Whites EP

Big Ditch Road
The Jackson Whites EP (Eclectone, 2008)
Grade: B

Download: Big Ditch Road - "Jackson Whites"
Download: Big Ditch Road - "All The Way To Idaho"

Any album, no matter how big or small in scope, which follows a predecessor called Suicide Note Reader's Companion (though indirectly, as the band put also put out EP The Great Dissent after Companion) is bound to serve as the musical light at the end of the tunnel.

Even still, those accustomed to Minneapolis alt-country act Big Ditch Road more morose musings are in for a shock once the drums kick in on "Waiting To Destroy", the first track from stopgap EP The Jackson Whites. Though both Companion and Whites start out with singer Darin Wald's piercing voice and a strumming acoustic guitar, the differences couldn't be more stark. "Waiting To Destroy" may invoke nihilistic connotations, but the song is a major-key pop song with wordless harmonies, handclaps and enough happiness to last you through the winter doldrums.

And so it goes for the rest of The Jackson Whites, named after a group of people of mixed descents living in the Ramapo Mountains, located near northern New Jersey and southern New York. Along with "Waiting To Destroy", the rest of Whites is bright, uptempo and has only the slightest connections to alt-country. But what makes Whites pleasurable is hearing how Big Ditch Road recontextualizes familiar alt-country sounds. The epic steel pedal work of band member Brian O'Neil is certainly nothing new, but in a song like the title track, it sounds more like beloved alt-rock group Built To Spill, rather than anything that would have been derived from the Grand Ole Opry.

Despite the strives that Big Ditch Road make toward more poppy and psychedelic sounds, there's a sameness to the songs on Whites. That's because the rhythm section--consisting of bassist Amy Bukstein and drummer Tim Baumgart--while certainly tight, gets stuck in a repetitive groove on many of the tracks. It's only on epic album closer "Northwoods Report/Chomsky '08", which suggests that you may enjoy Big Ditch Road's foray into free-form jamming should they decide to head down that route. Wherever Darin Wald's muse may take BDR in the future is uncertain, but as long as the results are as agreeable as The Jackson Whites is, then there's no reason why the listener shouldn't be along for the ride.

Big Ditch Road are playing a CD Release Party tonight at the Turf Club. Show is 21+, doors are at 9 p.m. and tickets are $5. Opening are The Glad Version, Ice Palace and The Wapsipinicon.

Big Ditch Road MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

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