Big Tribe – In This Together
The musical collective Big Tribe, anchored by a core trio of Peter Paynon, Joe Heutte, and Bonnie Eyler, have incorporated over thirty musical guests into their musical vision over the course of their two studio albums. Despite this abundance of talented contributors, listening to their second album In This Together leaves no doubt that the core threesome is the guiding musical forces behind this project. Peter Paynon’s songwriting gives the band and their cohorts a sturdy skeleton they flesh out with musical textures and colors of every sort. The dozen songs on this collection rarely repeat themselves or cover the same territory and, even when they plumb into familiar subject matter for popular song, they do so with rare individuality and a creativity that reaches far beyond the ken of most modern acts. Much of this is accomplished, as well, through the good taste they show throughout this release. Not everything connects successfully, but even the album’s failures are noble and never unlistenable.
“Martha” starts things on a singer/songwriter note that pervades the album as a whole. There’s a symbolic turn in the lyrics with its assortment of characters reminiscent of Dylan’s lyrics, but Peter Paynon’s lyrics embrace clarity over poetic obfuscation. Paynon’s vocals are unique, but never bereft of musicality, and even their nasal quality isn’t enough to turn listeners away. Bonnie Eyler’s first solo vocal on the album, “10,000 Years”, is probably the sweetest singing imaginable for a song about that seems to be about comets. She really does quite an able job of dramatizing the subject matter in an unexpectedly sensitive way, but the track’s metaphor has a multi-level thrust that makes the lyrics applicable in a number of ways. There’s an end-of-things finality to “The Final Boat Out” that might remind some listeners of the opener, but makes better use of specific detail than the earlier track. The guitar work is bigger here than on any other previous song, but never veers off into self-indulgence and strengthens the track.
“How the Mind Wanders” will find few, if any, critics. This is the sort of adult minded fare that realizes popular music’s potential to communicate and gives lie to any lingering notions that this is a young person’s form and incapable of making substantive statements. Eyler’s vocals are particularly effective here. “You Lied” finds Eyler singing once again. This is sort of the evil twin of the preceding song and Eyler unleashes a deliciously enraged vocal performance that will get audiences sitting up and taking notice. Big Tribe chose “July Carol” as the album’s first single and it isn’t difficult to hear why. This is one of the album’s best melodies and the lyrics show an understated wit only a handful of songwriters today could match. “Just a Boy” is similar insofar as it is propelled by a strong melody, but the lyric content is, while eloquent as always, a bit more commonplace in regards to its subject matter. In This Together will more than satisfy admirers of the band’s first album and win many new fans for Big Tribe.
8 out of 10 stars