SUBLIMINAL OVERTONES – Subliminal Overtones
Written by John Payne
Subliminal Overtones boasts an instrument selection that extends well beyond the usual rock lineup, and they sometimes downplay improvising in favor of structured songwriting. And their name isn’t something along the lines of Colorado River Trail Mix. Despite these fine qualities, though, Subliminal Overtones provides only a little more than your standard jam-band fare. They probably put on an enjoyable live show, but they don’t manage to make their music especially interesting on this eponymous CD.
“Storm” sets the tone right off the bat, leaving a definite first impression concerning the type of band Subliminal Overtones are. It isn’t as if they aren’t making an effort to forge their own sound; a violin and a horn section feature prominently, which perhaps doesn’t happen on every jam-band song. Even more interestingly, there isn’t a guitar solo (there is a drum break). But these are merely technicalities. It’s all there, the classic “Sunshine Daydream” guitar sound, singing that’s a just little too hearty, peppy bass, “the sun comin’ down on you” lyrics (although considering what some jam bands have lyrics about, that’s not bad at all) and a sudden urge for a little hacky-sack… among other things. It’s a risky song. People who don’t like jam bands probably won’t care for the overall jam-band feel. People who love jam bands may not appreciate the lack of extended improvisational playing. That leaves the people who like the way jam bands sound but don’t like long jams. If you are indeed out there and reading this, this is the song for you. The same goes for the incessantly bright “Which Lie?” with its quaint organ undertones and repetitive chords (although it’s got some guitar and organ jams that are solid, if indistinctive).
None of this is to say it’s a bad record, just not very enthralling. There are exceptions as well. Good songs can be found here and there, generally when Subliminal Overtones adopt a more somber, melancholy sound. “For a Time” recalls the Stones a lot more than it does the Dead, and features the best of several well-structured, tastefully restrained guitar solos from Fred Simani. “Bright Lights” is actually pretty, and its slow tempo emphasizes the quality of James Gallagher’s excellent violin playing much better than the faster tracks. Of course, it’s also hard to sound bad on any song that mainly takes its cues from Neil Young.
Subliminal Overtones is well produced and well executed, and has a couple of great songs. After a few listens, it eventually becomes apparent they have managed to find a niche somewhere in between concise songwriting and extended improv. But the difference just isn’t significant enough. It’s ultimately probably a little too granola for the casual listener, and perhaps not granola enough for the jam-band faithful.