by Gaia Consort
Suddenly Naked Arts Collective, 2007
Sometimes, you just have to dance. Despite fear-mongers on each TV screen, Life’s rich and wondrous spell transcends human commotion. This sentiment drives Vitus Dance, and drives it hard. Few albums I’ve heard this year rock as Dance.
I’ve had mixed feelings about the band’s music before now; earlier releases hammered sociopolitical harangues at the expense of artistry.
That flaw disappears on Vitus Dance. Though several cuts ― especially “Dirty Little Secret” and “All We’ve Got” ― contain political themes, those songs transcend their topical limitations. Expansive arrangements allow each song on the album to breathe, and the musicians follow that flow to glory. Although Dance’s production sounds a bit thin in places (particularly the electric guitar, which could be beefier), there’s a rich sophistication and outright joy to the music that makes this album sing.
In the lushly designed liner notes, bandleader Christopher Bingham describes “that state of mind ― when life is so big that all you can do is twitch along… and engage the moment.” Driven by propulsive beatwork from T.J. Morris (drums) and Dan Mohler (bass), Vitus Dance carries you off from its opening notes to its end. Intricate layers of Bingham’s acoustic guitars, Larry Golding’s violins, and Jay Kenny’s keyboards spin up from those beats, wrapped in soft textures of vocals (Bingham, plus Susan Tinney) and strings (Betsy Tinney and Sunnie Reed). A collection of guest artists keeps the pot simmering… and occasionally ― as with “Turtles All the Way Down” ― brings it to a boil.
At its best, Vitus Dance is intoxicating. The title track ― introduced by the crazed “Turtles” ― is irresistible, with “Perils of Poly” dashing close behind. Riffing off of Gilbert & Sullivan, the latter cut provides a catchy anthem for alternative relationships and their associated headaches. The sweet comfort of “Mercy” and the loving touch of “Good-night” provide soft landings for this Dance, while “Heather in the Mead” and “Twilight Calling” entice us to drink life’s wild concoctions. The killer tracks, though, are “The Green” (a Kansas-esque epic), “All We’ve Got” (a ripe Limbaugh-jacking), and especially “Oracle” (featuring S.J. Tucker). The latter, an eerie ode to Lady Fate, wins my vote as the band’s best song ever. Mohler’s bass gets under your skin, and won’t let go till the end.
Vitus Dance flows like booze on a wild Friday night. It’s vital, it’s meaningful, and most of all it’s fun. And in these dour times, that seems like the most defiant act imaginable.
RATING: 5 Broomsticks
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