Critics have marveled at this Louisville quintet's ability to survive the departure of two members (or "lifelong friends," as the press release puts it) to make its best album yet on its fifth outing, the newly minted Z. But no matter who comes or goes, nothing can disturb the most intense relationship in the group: the ever-deepening bond between singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Jim James and his own echo.
On Z, the hollow, reverberating filter on James' voice and guitar combine with his post-hippie style so majestically that reviewers have elevated the group from the disparaged jam-band market -- where kingpin Dave Matthews first nabbed them for his RCA-affiliated ATO label -- to rock's guitar-god pantheon. They're considered a combination of everyone from Built to Spill to OK Computer-era Radiohead, as well as classic rock icons from the Allman Brothers to the Who.
The comparisons make sense -- on standout rockers "What a Wonderful Man He Was" and "Anytime," James and new keyboardist Bo Koster reconfigure Daltry-Townshend so niftily, it could make Bob Pollard spew his brew. But reviewers' enthusiasm for this bunch doesn't quite equate. Without the grounding of Radiohead's postmodern paranoia, the Who's teen angst, or the Allmans' back-porch sultriness, track after track lifts into the stratosphere only to evaporate into antiseptic wistfulness, and a bell-bottom high is a far cry from "Bell Bottom Blues" (that's by Derek and the Dominoes, boogie chillun).