As with many a jam band, the songs on this, the Shadyside Allstars' first proper studio release, seem built for and best heard in a live setting. Formed in 2003, the band has spent far more time on the stage than in the studio, honing their songs in front of more live audiences than producers and critics. Unfortunately, the album they have produced is underwhelming.
Of course, a less-than-impressive studio album does not a poor jam band make. If nothing else, the record's nine songs are impeccably played, showing off each of the band members' adept technical and compositional skills. The album's best moments are its frequently deft instrumental sections, like the interlocking piano and guitar melodies of "Deep Rolling Waters" and the funky, solo-laden album closer "Odd Peter." Songs like these show the band's ability to play more challenging, unbridled instrumental rock in the tradition of bands like moe. and Phish.
Yet, many of the album's songs are marred by almost invariably cheesy vocals (see: "Troubadour Stu") and shallow, uninspired lyrics. The solos are tight and the playing unquestionably skilled, but if Shadyside dig a bit deeper the next time they hit the studio, they could quite possibly unearth something more dynamic, complex and original.