October 4th, 2007
Marvin’s Garden is a Madison quartet which should be celebrating their second anniversary soon. The band consists of Tim Giles on drums, Ken Leiser on electric guitar and violin, Tim Peeters on bass, and Justin Sprague on acoustic guitar and vocals. Why Should I Change? is their debut album out on PBM Records. I’ve listened to this disc several times and have still somehow managed to retain a large amount of ambivalence about it. The band themselves admit they traffic in a variety of styles such as funk, folk, rock, and rhythm and Why Should I Change? is certainly stylistically diverse – almost to the point of distraction.
The lead track “Aurora’s Song” starts with a burst of white boy funk and then becomes something akin to a jam band tune with its sunny disposition. Sprague’s nearly too earnest vocals even give a nod to bratwurst making it a decidedly Wisconsin lyric. The happy-go-lucky feel is maintained for “Dock Ellis”, about a baseball player who stands upon the mound tripping on acid. There’s some great fiddle work here and the song got me wondering what 16 Horsepower would have been like had they eschewed the gothic and instead embraced the Summer of Love.
Things are generally cheery for the first several songs until we get to the cautionary “Great Big Wonderful (Mess)” with its synth, sitar solo, and washes of fuzzy guitar. “Windowsill” is a bit of jazzy swing while “Sandy O’Shea” is a faux Irish ballad which morphs into a reel, again with some great fiddle work. The album closes with further stylistic shifts, the first of which is “Redneck Stoners (in Luv)”, a fun take on turbo tonk with its refrain of “Dang, heck/Redneck stoners in love”. The terminal tune is the gritty, bluesy “Shitty Gin”, which is an instant sing-along.
Why Should I Change? made for a nice change of pace in my musical diet with the paucity of power chords. Leiser is very deft at moving from rhythm parts to more muscular leads and so the music has some wonderful dynamics. But my ambivalence remains. At one listening session I’ll enjoy going from folk-inflected pop to jazz to Irish folk. Then on the next I find myself wishing the band hadn’t segregated each of their predilections into separate songs and instead found some way to integrate them. Disparate mess or eclectic collection? Even taking the former view, Why Should I Change? still has solid playing, great melodies, and that infectious fiddle.