A tight, eclectic trio coming out of Folly Beach, SC, Dangermuffin may not be unique among roots bands in tapping various strains of bluegrass, ‘60s rock, folk, pop, reggae and blues, then mixing and matching those styles at times, but the fellows do stand out on the strength of their musicianship, writing and vision. Lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Dan Lotti’s engaging, slightly hoarse tenor evokes memories of the young Jerry Garcia, and in fact San Francisco of the ‘60s in general seems a point of inspiration for Dangermuffin. Like the vintage Dead, Lotti, Mike Sivilli and Steven Sandifer clearly have great affection for the roots artists of yore and jazzmen’s love for instrumental discourse of an improvisational nature. I’m trying to avoid saying “jam band” because of the term’s radioactive effect on some, but Dangermuffin may be the jam band with a difference many did not believe existed. On Moonscapes, its third album, the trio's strengths coalesce into an impressive whole.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being put off by the cheery, warm pop melody and gentle, lilting rhythm of “Big Suit”; and if you listen to Lotti’s lyrics, you’ll find a heartening ode to someone near and dear from another who appreciates being reminded how good it feels when they’re together. Your faithful friend and narrator is old enough to remember when a song such as “Gutter Dance” might have cropped up in a Jefferson Airplane set circa Surrealistic Pillow. Its infectious guitar riffing circling in on itself and repeating; the way the melody opens up and soars as the singers raise their voices in group harmony; a decidedly spacey, ethereal Jorma-like electric guitar solo that builds from whispered, tentative noting to bruising, protesting flurries; and a narrative that may or may not be centered on the singer’s existential dislocation—behold all the elements of the Airplane at its best in its prime before the politics creeped in a bit too much. Want a little reggae in your roots? The slow boiling “Fuego” is what the doctor ordered, but it too veers off into some pointed, probing electric guitar excursions, courtesy Mike Sivilli, that blend a reggae feel with rock propulsion, which in turn lead right into the driving, down ‘n’ drity rock ‘n’ roll of “Seafoam Tumbles,” a delightful workout celebrating nature’s salutary effect on a troubled mind. And for fans of simple, straightforward, unadulterated roots music, Dangermuffin delivers. “Walk Into the Wind” steps lively out of the gate and romps through its two-and-a-half minute narrative with exuberant spirits and a toe-tapping, banjo-inflected beat, as Lotti opines philosophically about challenging oneself in a clever arrangement deploying stop-time passages most effectively to add bracing tension to the track; with Shannon Whitworth adding a poignant second voice, the album closing “Coffin Island” assumes an epic dimension in its chilling story of a couple stranded on a desolate shore without resources, save for each other’s strength and faith. With Steve Sandifer adding thumping, dark-hued percussion under a delicately fingerpicked guitar and moaning bass lines, Lotti and Whitworth weave their weary but determined tale of woe, which fades out with the sound of the tide rushing in before the last half of the near-12-minute number concludes with a searching, introspective instrumental, guitars pushing against each other, percussion jittery and anxious, the ambiance tense and volatile as the conversation becomes more heated, then wearily subsides, as if consumed by its own energy. This is the kind of world Dangermuffin can and does create here, never predictable, always exhilarating, frequently surprising in the best sense—in short, a world worth visiting on a regular basis.–David McGee