The Return of the New Jack Hippies
Those plugged into the local scene know this title is something of a joke. Guitarist Guy Schwartz and bassist Roger Tausz are old hippies, ones who've been together and in and out of regional bands since the 1960s. For the past few years, though, these two have been the creative force behind the blues-rock-based New Jack Hippies, a revolving collective of nearly 25 local musicians. Taken as one big whole, this band is proficient on a dizzying number of instruments -- and full of mature musicians.
Calling this outfit a "jam" band may be accurate, but it's not complete. The multifaceted Hippies take their cues from the compact, disciplined stylings of bands like the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Little Feat and War, in addition to the likes of Phish and the Dead. If anything, call the Hippies a well-rehearsed jam band.
That said, this CD, full of memorable hooks, is certainly a solid introduction to the group. From the pure early-'60s pop joy of "Run Away" and "Any Time to Shine" to the harder-edged numbers like "The House Is Burning Down" and the horn-fueled "Time Bomb" and "Under Suspicion," the band's playing is tight, yet allows room to breathe. And as good as this act sounds on disc, it's usually more effective in a live setting -- preferably under the sun with a cold beer in hand.
The Hippies do have a few weaknesses, perhaps because of the elastic lineup. The calzone is meaty and filling, no doubt, but it's not always spicy enough. "Since My Baby Went Away" is a stone-cold B.B. King copy, and the aforementioned "House" contains the oft-used rhythm from "Willie and the Hand Jive." The hip-hop DJ scratching on "Time to Let It Go" just seems like an odd misstep. Most noticeable is the band's lack of a truly strong lead presence.
Schwartz and Tausz may have finally found the perfect vehicle for their creative aspirations in the New Jack Hippies. And while this CD proves the band has a lot of good music (and good times) to offer, it also says the group's evolution, like the fuzzy-faced ape who's the official mascot, may never be complete.