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Ripple Effect Music Blog Reviews "Together Forever"

http://ripplemusic.blogspot.com/2010/02/lost-classic-marshall-tucker-band.html

My dog died this weekend. 15 years old and as much of a trooper as you'd ever find. Full of heart and soul.

Now this being a music site, not a dog site, I won't burden you with too many details of Kimo's passing, rather, we're going to talk about the album that found it's way onto my turntable the morning after Kimo's death. An album that filled that perfect chasm of being musically uplifting, nearly transcendent in it's melodic reach, yet still deeply mournful and somber, capable of pulling from my deadened heart every last bit of raw emotion. Music that became the eulogy of my dog's passing, Music that became my teary catharsis.

I've always been a huge Marshall Tucker Band fan. Skyrocketed to fame on the back of their tour supporting The Allman Brothers in 1973, very few bands ever sounded like them. Southern through and through, the Marshall Tucker boys seemed to live the cowboy ethic, writing songs about cattle drives and long hard rides. Yet don't go to Marshall Tucker expecting country music. Sure there were traces of cowboy western deep within their mix, but The Marshall Tucker Band were so much more than that, effortlessly blending simply stellar musicianship, a true guitar hero, and their southern leanings with the heapin' textures of jazz and rock. More southern sounding than The Atlanta Rhythm Section, not as fierce as Molly Hatchet, less rebellious than Lynard Skynard, more focused than the Allman Brothers, more "real" than 38 Special, but less pop oriented than Firefall, they were a hard band to classify. None of that hindered their success in the '70's though, as the band released a series of 6 gold and platinum albums and the radio hit, "Heard it in a Love Song." Still, as the millennium has changed, it seems that the Marshall Tucker Band often gets left off that list of great southern bands, and that's a shame.

Besides a rock-steady rhythm section comprised of Tommy Caldwell and drummer Paul Riddle, MTB had three distinct secret weapons, all of which make their presence felt on Together Forever: the once-in-a-lifetime, deeply emotional and soulful voice of Doug Gray, the southern rock virtuosic guitar work of Toy Caldwell, and the jazzy flute and sax accompaniments of Jerry Eubanks. Put it all together and you get a sound unlike any other in the southern rock cannon. Country rock jazz. All of which led me to chose this album to plunk onto the turntable that mournful morning.

Now, I'm not gonna say that Together Forever is MTB's best album. It's not. That honor would most likely go to Carolina Dreams, or The Marshall Tucker Band (although I've always been partial to Tenth, and the heartbreak of a song, "See You One More Time"). Still Together Forever was the first MTB I came across as I dug for the perfect music that morning after my dog's passing; something not to harsh or aggressive, yet not maudlin and passive. I wanted something that still rocked, but felt reflective. Something soulful. And for that Together Forever, was like a gift from an angel.

Beginning with the chugging guitar of rhythm player George McCorkle, it only takes a few moments for MTB to arrive in all their glory. Toy adds in a little acoustic, feathered with Jerry's gentle flute. When Tommy's bass comes in, it runs in jazzy arpeggios, not galloping county tones. By the time Doug's instantly recognizable voice jumps into the foray, I'm lost. Sure the lyrics added an interesting sentiment to my harsh feelings of loss, "When the morning sun/melts the morning dew/I'll be loving you." But it wasn't sentimentality that clicked with me that day. It wasn't the rawness of the emotion that made me realize that I loved MTB even more than I thought I did. It was the music.

Doug Gray possesses a voice that embodies country soul. Effortlessly, he wrings emotion out of each word. It's nearly impossible to describe his singing. Slightly nasal in tone, but still deep from the belly. His phrasing is perfect, nearly jazz-like in it's approach. It's a voice that even on the happiest songs belays an underlying sadness, a deeper sorrow, a weathered melancholy. On that first song, "I'll Be Loving You," it was a voice that reached right out from the vinyl and caressed me, gently cajoling my own tears to join the band's.

While the band runs away with a chugging southern groove, Toy Caldwell shows us that he just may be the most under-appreciated southern guitar slinger of all time. Carrying a tone that would melt the Allman Brother's hearts, his guitar is clean and crisp, deeply expressive. Jazzy, rocking, soaring, Toy wrings the notes for every moment of emotion. Whether playing slow and melodic or blinding at virtuoso speed, his guitar doesn't sound like southern rock, like the Outlaws, or jazzy, but comfortably somewhere in between. And it's all done with his magical thumb, plucking away.

Doug and Toy reach perfection again with the mid-tempo "Love is a Mystery," both of them soaring into their performances. The addition of some spellbinding jazzy sax by Jerry Eubanks completes the picture, filling out this 7 minute jam of a song. Toy comes back after the sax, his tone elevating to some place that few guitars can ever go. Doug's voice, even here on a love song, is still as deeply affected as before. It's just the way the guys sings, the tone of his voice that to me just speaks of heartbreak. I've loved that voice since the first time I heard it, and coming to me that sad morning, it was like a sorrowful salve to my wounds.

If you've never taken the time to explore the Marshall Tucker Band's vast catalog, don't miss it. If the thought of a blend of southern rock and jazz that's more concerned with soul and melody than simple blazing guitar solos appeals to you then Marshall Tucker is waiting. They were there for me that morning, and now they've found a place even deeper in my heart.

And to Kimo, rest easy, my boy. The angels are with you.

--Racer
  • Posted on   02/17/10 at 06:37:17 PM   by Ryan  | 
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Posted in News
Tagged with Together Forever, Toy Caldwell

Reader Comments (1)

Jim 04/04/10 01:57:46 PM

funny you should mention that, when an animal dies they say they cross the rainbow bridge. well when my dog died I loaded him in the car, and started it up, and wouldn't ya know serching for a rainbow came on!! funny how that stuff happens.

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