Photo by Zach Nichols, courtesy Galactic Cowboy Orchestra
A one-a, a two-a, a three-a...no, wait.
¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tres! ¡Quatro!...no, wait.
Grab yer pardners, doe-si...no, wait.
I can't think of an appropriate way to start this review of the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra's CD release jam at the Dakota Jazz Club on March 19, so excuse my confusion and just try to follow the bouncing ball.
Per the description posted by the Dakota, GCO fall under bluegrass, jazz, and world/fusion. Let's just say it's a diverse, über-talented group of musicians that reminded me of session players you hear when you're in Nashville doing the town. Each musician—including a guest appearance by Trent Romens—was, indeed, out of this world. (And, just FYI, music is only one of the arts they practice. GCO are also making films. See their website for more on that.)
The band comprises four players: Dan Neale on guitar, Lise Wright on fiddle, John Wright on bass, and Mark O'Day on drums and percussion. All are seasoned musicians and all have been featured in a variety of other noted local gigs including sessions with Martin Zellar, Mick Sterling, on A Prairie Home Companion, and with Willy Murphy. The national connections are too numerous to list here, but check out their exhaustive website bios for more.
It was a full-house audience ranging in ages from young 'uns to senior seniors. I was assuming the young 'uns were some family members and friends there to get in on the celebration. Typically you don't see much age diversity at the Dakota.
The show started with a 1-2-3-4 twang, moved to a full fledged hoe-down square dance, evolved into dramatic classically-tinged solos, and ended in a heavy funk. Occasionally you could pick out influences from the Allman Brothers to John Coltrane, from Rush to Jonathan Wolf—composer of the music from Seinfeld. The guy on my left, in town from Chicago for the week, commented that he heard some Kansas influence. I don't know about that, as all I could remember about Kansas was "Dust in the Wind" and at the time that was a hit, all I was listening to was Springsteen and the Ramones.
The jazzy sound was a strength for GCO, smokey R&B a strong point, and French Bohemian/Cajun a natural. Sometimes you felt as if you stepped into a southern roadhouse bar, and other times perhaps the Blue Note. It was hard, actually, to stay in a groove as the band took you down roads full of twists and turns. Heck, maybe they just threw you into a corn maze and hoped you'd figure your way out alone if you couldn't keep up. My friend and I were kind of longing for more of a logical progression in the set—but maybe that's just because that's what we're used to.
There were original songs—one piece soloed by Dan Neale was particularly lovely—and there were classics. A rendition of "Tied to the Whipping Post" sent the audience into a standing ovation. The musicians' solos were well placed and really, really fun. Lots of personality and talent was on stage that night. The CD they were promoting is called Songs We Didn't Write, Volume 2 and is available online in their web store. You can catch the "Whipping Post" arrangement on it.
In terms of acoustics and lighting, the Dakota is a stellar place to hear music. It's occasionally a bit annoying to duck and dive around servers to see a guitarist strum a great lick, or watch the drummer take out six weeks of angst on cymbals, but it's worth it. The staff is welcoming, the food is terrific, the bartenders are excellent. If you're lucky, you'll get a chance to meet Ms. Deborah UpChurch while you're there. As the Dakota's biz development person, she's a great resource to learn more about what makes the Dakota "cook."