Album Review: Assembly of Dust – Some Assembly Required

The many parts and pieces that comprise Some Assembly Required snap together in a truly satisfying way, save a few bum edges. Featuring special guests on each song, the album wins in the personnel department, but it’s hard to tell if the guests – John Scofield, Tony Rice, Grace Potter, Mike Gordon, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Richie Havens among them – were simply shoehorned into existing songs or if they had input into the recording and songwriting process. The album is unbalanced in quality and pacing, yet the band still comes out of the whole affair stronger than ever.

Some of the songs sound tailored for the attending musician, like the majestic introspection of “All That I Am Now,” which is urged into the mystic by Richie Havens’ prophetic voice and forceful guitar work. Others sound like typical folk-rock fare from AOD leader Reid Genauer, but with extra icing. The expansive rock number “Pedal Down,” for instance, features Zach and Andrew Gabbard of Buffalo Killers, but you’d hardly notice the difference unless you’re a huge Buffalo Killers fan because their contributions mesh so well with what AOD is already doing with the song.

Most numerous on the album are the songs that probably already existed but are jazzed up with bonus instrumental work, like David Grisman’s subtle mandolin work on “Cold Coffee,” Mike Gordon’s bio-mechanical bass on “Arc of the Sun,” and Keller Williams’ elegant guitar work on the rootsy “Second Song.” “High Brow” is right in the wheelhouse of moe. guitarist Al Schnier, who simply accentuates the song’s shimmering roots-pop with a tasteful solo and gritty, distorted rhythmic strums. The upbeat “High Brow” is nestled among a handful of the album’s less engaging songs, which makes it a key player in the listenability of Some Assembly Required.

The overall success of the album is somewhat inconsistent, evidenced by adjacent tracks like “Borrowed Feet,” in which John Scofield’s liquid guitar lines seem a bit out of place within the song’s dark edges, and “Revelry,” where the dueling acoustic guitars of Martin Sexton and Tony Rice perfectly lend a classic, CSNY-type sound to the song. Truly forgettable moments are few and far between, but they glare prominently because of the album’s frustrating pace. “Light Blue Lover” doesn’t live up to the promising inclusion of Tony Rice and Grace Potter, and the dobro work of Jerry Douglas is pretty much the only redeeming quality of “Leadbelly.” Theresa Andersson can’t salvage the plodding, ill-timed “Straight,” and the album-closing track “You Lay the Dust,” while sweet in meaning, does little to reward the listener for making it to the end.

Some Assembly Required doesn’t quite live up to the lofty bar set by its dazzling guest list, and it’s not Assembly of Dust’s best album by a long shot. However, it is still one of the strongest roots rock offerings of the year, and Genauer’s songwriting shines as always. All of a sudden, Assembly of Dust has a catalog that is growing more interesting and varied  by the year. It is a testament to the band that even when there are too many cooks about, the master chef’s vision still shines through in the finished product.

Rating: 7.9 out of 10

Bonnaroo Preview: Phish

When the first Bonnaroo took place in 2002, Phish had been “on hiatus” for nearly 2 years, and there was relentless speculation that Trey Anastasio’s festival-closing set would transmogrify into the band’s comeback. The rumors never panned out, but the possibility electrified the weekend. You could feel the excitement in the stiff Tennessee air for three days.

PhishImagine, then, what it is going to be like to actually have Phish on the farm. Bonnaroo began as an event aimed squarely at the band’s gigantic fan base, and now, after 8 years, they’re finally coming to Manchester. It could have never happened. After 2004, Phish could have been done forever. Bonnaroo would have gone on, but not having a Phish performance would have been one giant gap in the still-evolving history of the festival.

Now, with the event firmly established as world-class attraction, Phish has helped create one of the most unique Bonnaroos ever. For the first time, a headliner will perform twice without the two performances happening on consecutive days. The band will perform the festival’s first-ever late-night headlining set on Friday – and no, I’m not counting the debacle that was Kanye West at dawn in 2008 – and the festival-ending set on Sunday.

While Phish have welcomed guests with open arms in the past, sit-ins have gotten less frequent over the years. It’s hard to say if anyone will join Phish during their sets, or if any band members will appear during other performances. In any case, the possibility is there – the band is on record as fans of King Sunny Ade (performing Friday at the Other Tent), they’ve occasionally covered “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys (performing just in front of Phish Friday night), and even hobnobbed with David Byrne (performing Friday on the Which Stage) in the past. It’s no stretch to fantasize that even Snoop Dogg could be invited to rap with the band, since Jay-Z did just that in Brooklyn during Phish’s 2004 “farewell” tour.

All of this speculation and anticipation begs the question – is Phish still worth catching? Is their fans’ excitement justified?

Judging from the band’s recent performances in Boston, MA and Wantagh, NY, they’ve tapped into enough of their old mojo to give solid, if not legendary performances. It seems like the band is right on the verge of performing to their capabilities, and who knows – with another week of warm up time, Bonnaroo may be the place where Phish officially gets their groove back.

-Make sure you follow The Wounded Messenger on Twitter for the best Phish setlist and performance updates during Bonnaroo, along with lots of other stuff from the festival!

Phishy links:

Official site

“Sample in a Jar” from 1996’s Clifford Ball festival:

Star-Studded Assembly of Dust Album Due July 21

Assembly of Dust, led by singer/songwriter Reid Genauer, have announced the release date of their new album, Some Assembly Required. Due July 21, the album features many special guests including Bela Fleck, Mike Gordon, David Grisman, John Scofield, Keller Williams, Grace Potter, Tony Rice, and Martin Sexton. AOD keyboardist Nate Wilson is not mentioned in the press release but is still listed as a member of the band on their website.

From the band:

Each of Assembly of Dust’s songs are realized with an ace band — Genauer on vocals and rhythm guitar, lead guitarist Adam Terrell, bassist John Leccese and drummer Andy Herrick — and a diverse collection of collaborators.

Some Assembly Required Tracklist and Guests:

1. All That I am Now – featuring Richie Havens
2. Pedal Down – featuring Zach and Andrew Gabbard (Buffalo Killers)
3. Cold Coffee – featuring David Grisman
4. Arc of the Sun – featuring Mike Gordon (Phish)
5. The Second Song – featuring Keller Williams
6. Light Blue Lover – featuring Grace Potter and Tony Rice
7. Edges – featuring Bela Fleck
8. Leadbelly – featuring Jerry Douglas
9. Borrowed Feet – featuring John Scofield
10. Revelry – featuring Martin Sexton and Tony Rice
11. Straight
12. High Brow – featuring Al Schnier (moe)
13. You Lay The Dust – featuring Jeff Pevar

AOD fans assemble at the band’s website for all the pertinent info.