For two guys, Marco Benevento and Joe Russo make a lot of noise. They do this quite oftenat home, on the road, whatevernearly constantly for three years, ever since Russo signed on for a hundred dollars a week at the Knitting Factory back in 2002. Since then the twentysomething keys/drums duo has earned some notoriety in jam band circles for its energy and inventiveness in live performance, but it would be a mistake to lump these guys in any category, let alone one that tends to rely on recycled riffs and limp funk for its greatest sources of inspiration.
Best Reason to Buy the Sun breaks on through to the other side, plain and simple. Hit play and two tracks later you feel ten years younger, brimming with a sunny outlook and ready to conquer the world. That feeling of endless possibilities must be contagious.
There's something cinematic about this record, which is awash with vast landscapes and anthemic cascades, transporting listeners to new realms without the nasty side effects of airsickness or academic convolution. Dream sequences appear now and then, like the one midway through "Vortex," bringing echoes of an introspective Brad Mehldau to mind; but they're balanced out by thrusts in the other direction, like the noisy thirty-second thrash punk outburst that closes "Becky," right before the simple and very analog ring of a cash register. (Get it? Check the title.)
It's quite remarkable how these two players bring out such a rich, full, oddly symphonic sound from their two main instruments. For this, credit producer Joey Waronker (Beck, REM), who takes advantage of studio tools to beef up an already muscular live sound. Guests (guitarist Smokey Hormel, percussionist Mike Dillon, and mutant saxophonist Skerik) appear on five tracks, but otherwise it's just two guys making all that noise.
Provided you don't prefer to listen to music through earbuds, you'll want to hear this off a piece of real aluminum, through real speakers, preferably at full volume. Catch the rumbling boom, the sizzling crash, and the raw-edged knife-like tone of Benevento's leads. Best thing is, however much polish and behind-the-scenes tweaking went into this production, it still feels very much alive, created in the moment by thinking, reacting individuals.
Best Reason to Buy the Sun has a certain accessible appealto those with wide-open minds, anywaywhich should find the Benevento/Russo duo new audiences beyond the folks who've been to their shows. But don't mistake that for flabbiness, because if there's anything this record has, it's punch.
If there's a better musical anti-aging formula out there, I haven't heard it.
Visit the Benevento/Russo Duo on the web for downloads, tour schedules, and more. For more coverage at AAJ, including download and concert reviews, click here.
Personnel: Marco Benevento: keyboards; Joe Russo: drums. With special guests Smokey Hormel: guitar (3,7,9);
Mike Dillon: percussion (6,7,8,9); Skerik: saxophone (6,7,9).