The Rare Bird Rhumba Ranch: Bull Feathers (2004)
Blending Tex-Mex with merengue, rhumba with Afro-Cuban influences, all with a keen sense of the absurd, the Rare Bird Rhumba Ranch is a schtick band that, while clearly limited in its appeal, has a certain zest, an infectious panache that makes it an engaging listen. And while there is a certain cerebral nature to their music, Bull Feathers is equally filled with danceable rhythms that would make them an entertaining band to experience live. But there is a cost; more about that later.
With an unusual instrumental lineup that combines a one-of-a-kind Latin drum kit with saxophones, accordion and bass; the Rare Bird Rhumba Ranch has a distinctive sound that is at once ethnically reverential and keenly exploratory. Percussionist/leader Greg Stare (Chico Loco) has worked in a variety of contexts, but through it all he demonstrates a firm understanding of groove; as sole composer for the band, he blends an Afro-Cuban musical sensibility with kitschy lyrics. Bassist Taylor Bergren-Chrisman (Chico Bueno), also established in the Eastern European Judaica band Golem, works well with Stare, maintaining a strong pulse throughout.
That leaves saxophonist Michael Attias (Chico Malo), who has worked with artists as diverse as Ray Santos and Anthony Braxton, and accordionist Josh Camp (Chico Long and Pompous), who has also worked in a broad range of styles, to bring the harmonic and melodic content to the group. Attias’ experience in free music brings an angular edge to the music; even when the group is keeping things danceable and reasonably accessible, as on “¡Chirp!,” there is an abstruse nature that keeps things slightly off-kilter. “Minimalist Merengue” shifts between a traditional merengue and more intense passages where seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics ebb and flow.
And what of the cost, previously mentioned? The danger of this kind of record is that it is altogether too considered for its own good. While the dance rhythms are sure to keep some of the audience happy, and its more outwardly experimental nature will appeal to a more exploratory audience, there is too much intention and little that sounds or feels spontaneous and natural. Schtick is, after all, still schtick; and that means that the work has an inherently limited shelf-life.
The project may succeed, for a time, on its own merits, but has little potential for longevity as the concept ultimately wears thin. Bull Feathers has a certain appeal, but will succeed best as a one-off project and even then may not bear repeated listens.
Visit The Rare Bird Rhumba Ranch on the web.
Track Listing: It's a Bird; Songs to be Sung; Pop Was Born in Texas; Minimalist Merengue; Grand Street Diner; Bull Feathers;
Personnel: Greg Stare (conga kit, lead vocals), Michael Attias (alto and baritone saxophones, recorder, vocals), Joshua Camp (accordion, vocals), Taylor Bergren-Chrisman (bass, vocals), Allyssa Lamb (vocals), Emily Hurst (vocals)