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Acoustic Syndicate
Long Way Round

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-3993 


  Many new acoustic bands try to combine so many influences in their music that the final result has the same taste and consistency as raw trout in a blender after ten minutes on frappe. Although Acoustic Syndicate draws from a wide range of musical sources, they temper their divergent influences with an overriding roots sensibility. Long Way Round represents the band's second release on Sugar Hill records. Their first, in 1996, demonstrated their strong musicianship. This one puts their vocals and songwriting skills in the forefront.

Acoustic Syndicate's core band consists of three brothers, Steve McMurry on guitar, mandolin, and vocals, Byron McMurry on banjo, guitar and dobro, and Fitz McMurry on drums and vocals. They added bassist Jay Sanders in 1992. The most recent member, saxophonist Jay Saunders, adds another dimension to their roots and bluegrass influenced sound.  With lesser musicians the addition of sax might just add jazz-inflected noodlings to their sound, but the sax parts in Acoustic Syndicate's music work with the existing instruments to reinforce their rustic textures. Make no mistake, Acoustic Syndicate makes pop music, complete with hooks, bridges, rave-ups, and very catchy melodies. Some songs, such as "Blue Bird Train" sound somewhat like an organic Steely Dan or firmly grounded Eagles. Other tunes like "Hypocrite Smile" have a more R&B feel, reminiscent of a rootsy Average White Band.

Producer Lloyd Maines deserves some credit for creating the sound on Long Way Round. He decided to record the band semi-live, letting everyone play together rather than having each musician do his parts alone. Only the vocals and some lead solos were overdubbed. This technique gives the music a more cohesive texture as well as allowing the musicians to feed off each other's energy the same way they would during a live concert.  The final result has a combination of energy and craft rarely found on modern pop recordings. Too bad most contemporary pop music doesn't have the organic elegance of Acoustic Syndicate.



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