For jam bands like Austin's Larry, live albums can be sink-or-swim ventures. If the product is outstanding, then neophytes might be attracted to the band's next show. But if the recorded performance is merely solid, would-be fans will stay away. Among Friends captures Larry at a few shows in Colorado and at Antone's in Austin. The resulting effort reflects potential but also a shortage of songwriting skills.
The album kicks off with a funker, "Sticky G," immediately drawing attention to the sextet's musical chemistry. Guitarists Tom Watts and Tom Vickers are versatile and adept at balancing energy and tonality. Meanwhile, Rick Cannon's harmonica emits percussive, fierce solos. During the opening track's obligatory ad-libbing, Larry segues into a sincere version of Waylon Jennings's theme from Dukes of Hazzard. Despite the predictable camp value, the band pulls off the Jennings tune and brings all the highfliers in the audience back to earth with a grin.
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Such creativity escapes other numbers. "Adelita" mingles serious Spanish guitars with a trite yarn about Mexico that includes blatantly Ely-esque references to tequila and señoritas. The band redeems itself a few tracks later on the psychedelic honky-tonker "Confusion Pie" but quickly loses momentum by the closing piece, the sweet-natured but mundane pop song "Separate Reality."
As befits a jam band, Larry's shining moments are its instrumental interludes. Both Watts and Vickers serve up riffs and solos that balance amiable imperfection with inventive delivery. Cannon's aggressively punctuated harp also turns up the fun factor. But the songs on this set render Larry somewhat anonymous. There are no memorable lyrics, few catchy choruses and nary a melody to be heard. While the jam scene isn't about hooks or choruses, the genre's exemplars (Phish, the Dead) built improvs around standard pop compositions. Larry has the tools to pull off such a task as well, if only the band will use them.