Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11: Rusted Root, "Ecstasy"

Artist: Rusted Root
Song: "Ecstasy"
Album: When I Woke
Year: 1994

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In an overwhelming majority of cases, the rise of fame for an artist or band is somewhat predictable, as they hone their sound to a certain level, and find that sound moving into the mainstream around the same time.  The other side is when bands are so far from the mainstream sound that they become favorites within the "musical underground," and in many cases eventually find themselves within similar levels of popularity to those on the opposite end of the world of music.  Then of course, there are a scant few groups in the history of music whose success is in every way completely inexplicable, and there may be no other band that better represents this idea than Rusted Root.  The band is unquestionably one of the most overly-creative and outright talented groups in the past few decades of music, but the reality is that their distinctive blend of sounds was such a far cry from anything going on within the world of music during the early and mid-1990's, that they "fit" absolutely no formula for musical success.  During an era when "grunge," "gangsta rap" and female singer-songwriters were dominating the chats, the fact that Rusted Root found success with what can most closely be described as "poly-rhythmic jam rock" was able to gain such a following is nothing short of astounding.  Though the band rarely recorded a song anything less than stellar, one can find all of their greatness inside Rusted Root's fantastic 1994 single, "Ecstasy."

From the moment that "Ecstasy" begins, there is a vibrancy to the music that stands in stark contrast to the harsh and dark themes that were dominating the world of music at the time.  It is the way that the entire band moves as a single unit that makes "Ecstasy" impossible to ignore, and even those who do not regularly listen to this style of music cannot help but bounce along with the superb musical arrangement.  It is the way that the acoustic guitar of Michael Glabicki flies around the rest of the instruments that stands as one of the most captivating aspects of the song, and he almost instantly cemented his place as one of the most creative and outright talented players of his generation.  His ability to bring a harder rocking sound, and quickly shift it into a wonderfully introspective and deep lament shows the range of possibilities within the instrument, and in many ways he was reinventing a "lost art."  However, while his performance is nothing short of exceptional, it is the dazzling poly-rhythms over which is plays that is the key to the appeal of "Ecstasy."  It is the way that Rusted Root were blending together everything from Native American sounds to Latin influences to clear inspiration from the Afro-beat sound that makes their music so distinctive, and one cannot help but be completely captivated by the celebration of life that ring through the playing of the various percussionists.

Though there is no question that it would be a difficult task for any vocalist, one of the most amazing aspects of "Ecstasy" is the way that Glabicki is able to match the intensity and emotion of the music within his vocal performance.  Throughout this song, Glabicki shows that he knows no limits in terms of vocal range, and there are few performances from any point in history that so perfectly display the idea of the energy of a song dictating the vocals.  As the intensity of the music builds, one can hear the energy and inflection of the vocals change in a similar manner; and it is the fact that Glabicki is able to exude just as much beauty and intensity within the more up-tempo moments as he can in the songs' softer parts that prove his talents as a singer.  Yet it is also the spirit of the entire band that comes through on the shared vocals throughout "Ecstasy" that make it clear why this sound would have easily set any live audience into a joyous frenzy.  Working more to this angle, the lyrics found on "Ecstasy" embody the counter-culture thought process of the time, as they speak of leaving behind the material possessions in life and celebrating for life itself.  The sheer freedom that comes through on every moment of "Ecstasy" is fitting of such a title, and there is no other song of the era that presents as perfect a balance between the music and vocals as one can find on this track.

While there is no arguing that it would be another of Rusted Root's songs that can be labeled as their "breakthrough" release, the fact of the matter is that "Ecstasy" is far more representative of their sound and abilities.  Within the song, one can hear influences on their music that easily associated them with everything from the "jam bands" to some of the finest Latin rhythm sections in history, and there is simply no way to properly describe the bands' completely unique musical approach.  It is the way that the band is able to quickly get into a deep groove, and spin it in a number of different directions with a range of tempos that make the song so fantastic, and even after hearing "Ecstasy" countless times, it never loses a bit of its appeal or intrigue.  However, one cannot overlook the fact that when one thinks logically, there was no way a band like this could have gained international attention at the time that they released this song and album.  Simply put, the rest of the world of music around them was at its high-point, and there were almost no acts that didn't in some way give a nod to one of the dominant sounds that found any success.  This reality is in many ways a testament to the exceptional level of talent and creativity within Rusted Root, and to this day, there has never been a similar group.  The fact that the band is so wonderfully unique, along with the outright energizing vibrancy of the track is the reason why Rusted Root's 1994 song, "Ecstasy," stands as one of the finest musical achievements of all time.

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