May  2002

Psychedelic Breakfast - Deuce
Sonance Records CD - SO51601
Released: 2001

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]Remove Psychedelic Breakfast’s second disc, Deuce, from its jewel case and you’ll see a picture of the band: Four guys with hair haphazardly parted and pulled back into pony tails, with jeans faded and worn to the consistency of chamois, wearing oversized t-shirts, one of them tie-died. Yep -- they’re a jam band. One of the more curious pop-music phenomena of the last ten years or so is the proliferation of these Grateful Dead-inspired bands. While there is only room for only one or two of them at the multi-platinum level (Dave Matthews, Phish), they continue to sprout up around the country, and a number of them have strong regional followings.

Psychedelic Breakfast hails from Connecticut, but their tour calendar for the next few months will take them throughout the Eastern and Southern US. If Deuce is any indication, they have a pretty good shot at someday being the next big jam band. Deuce is a lively disc and reasonably well recorded, and it has an air of sprawling, carefree fun about it. While it’s not the disc that’s going to put them over, there’s real potential here.

Guitarist Timothy Palmieri is the primary soloist on Deuce and he’s a resourceful player. His major-scale and modal lines are strongly influenced by Jerry Garcia and Dickie Betts and he has a confident enough approach to quick guitar stunts to keep things moving along. A solid rhythm section helps him keep the flame high. Ron Spears is a fluid, rhythmic bass player who matches Palmieri for melodic inventiveness. Drummer Adrian Tramontano has a swinging, loose style that owes more to a jazz drumming than to rock. His high-hat and cymbal work show a particularly deft touch.

The third member of the rhythm section, Jordan Giangreco, plays a number of keyboards on the disc, but it is his work on the Hammond organ that kept me coming back. I have a weakness for the sound of that instrument and I give the band and their producer, Vic Steffens, big points for using the real thing and not a synthesized version. Giangreco’s soulful feel has some Jimmy Smith in it and his accompaniment anticipates Palmieri’s solo needs, providing him with a solid jumping-off point. In truth, there are several times in the disc where Palmieri falls back on a stock riff or starts to meander, and he’s lucky to have a rhythm section whose wit, invention, and pure technical skill keep you interested.

Unfortunately, Psychedelic Breakfast’s weakness is a big one: They don’t write good songs. The talent for melody they display as improvisers seems to depart them as soon as they approach the craft of songwriting. There isn’t a single memorable song on Deuce. "Question Mark and the Mind" comes closest, but in the end it’s the song’s arrangement -- particularly an appealing guitar trill that runs through the song -- that saves it. Three of the disc’s tracks clock in at around 13 minutes and, again, while there’s plenty of improvisational fire to hold one’s interest, there’s no real song structure, and the segues between each of the sections are abrupt and don’t flow from any stated musical idea.

The CD booklet includes song lyrics, and you’ll be doing yourself and the band a favor if you don’t read them. A sample: "I’m the eternal cosmic being/flowing in an endless rainbow/spreading peace and harmony." For me, this sort of granola-based spirituality wears thin very quickly. I’m fairly certain the band doesn’t take it seriously, but memorable tunes would have made it a little easier to endure.

And yet, nearly all is forgiven when the band takes flight during the instrumental passages. Even when the jams go on a bit and you find your attention wandering from the guitar solo, something from one of the other players -- Tramontano’s ride cymbal technique, for example -- brings you back. These guys are probably at least one disc away from a real breakthrough, and that’s going to require better songs. In the meantime, if you like jam bands you might want to pick this up. You can tell people you knew them when.