Click to hear: “Sunshine”
The Windham band Moss Mountain Project has been playing live shows for a while now, and their fans have been anxiously awaiting their recorded debut.Catfish Grouper Snapper is worth the wait. Tim Ouillette (vocals, guitar, banjo, concertina), Jeff Harmon (drums, percussion, xylophone, backing vocals), and Peter Hill (bass, piano, mandolin, vocals) are a versatile trio whose chops shine on these songs. Equally impressive is the clean, warm production (credited to MMP and Stik Fortier, who also guests on vocals and electric guitar).
The first track, “Ahab,” immediately calls to mind Widespead Panic’s debut album, Space Wrangler: nifty acoustic guitar with subtle electric textures, mixed percussion, a driving country-and-western bass line, and raspy lead vocals with breezy back-ups. Everything is in place for a nice, jammy ride.
MMP’s sound remains grounded in that early Widespread aesthetic throughoutCatfish Grouper Snapper, but some eclectic and surprising influences surface along the way, elevating the songs above standard jam-band fare. “Sandtrap” and “Dashing” sound like the bastard children of Bonnie Prince Billy and 16 Horsepower, and “Divney’s Pool” features the freestyle rap stylings of guest Rich Porter over a delicately picked acoustic melody. “Dr. Quinn” bounces along with a reggae riddem, and the next thing you know, Moss Mountain Project is channeling Lambchop for the alt-country-lounge hybrid “Four Hundred Pounds.” The rousing closer, “Sunshine,” brings it all back home with growling vocals, whip cracks a la “Rawhide,” and that groovy acoustic guitar and electric bass that’s been there all along.
In the end, the album succeeds because these musicians deftly blend this mélange of styles into a cohesive Moss Mountain Project sound. It’s an impressive feat for a debut release. In lesser hands, such a disparate combination might have resulted in a watered-down musical soup. In Moss Mountain Project’s hands,Catfish Grouper Snapper proves to be a fresh and tasty bouillabaisse.
— Tom Flynn
Moss Mountain Project’s CD release party happens Sat., Dec. 16, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $6 (18+). mossmountainproject.com.