You would expect the memory of LeRoi Moore to hang over Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King—after all, the beloved Dave Matthews Band saxophonist passed away last year, during preproduction for the group’s seventh studio album. And Moore’s presence is deeply felt: His name appears, as always, among the liner notes (albeit without mention of his death), and the GrooGrux King in the album’s title is a reference to one of his nicknames.
But the excellent King memorializes Moore in the best way possible—by way of effervescent, inviting music that celebrates the longtime DMB credo, “eat, drink and be merry.” The exuberant “Why I Am” features strident horns, a wheedling saxophone, gang-vocal choruses and a repeating lyrical trope about drinking whiskey and dancing “with the GrooGrux King.” Other songs recall prog-jazz (“Seven”), grandiose classic rock (the thunderous, string-laden “Squirm”), deep-fried New Orleans blues-boogie (“Alligator Pie”) and bellowing rock fury (the Pearl Jam-ish “Time Bomb”).
Producer Rob Cavallo, who has coaxed slick, arena-sized rock from Green Day and My Chemical Romance, is a good fit for DMB’s musical gumbo; the album is slick, but entertaining, accessible and nuanced. Still, at times, King sounds oddly dated. The sharp trumpet bleats and funk-rock grooves of “Shake Me Like a Monkey” arrive straight out of a mid-’80s Genesis song, while Matthews’ keening vocals and the airy saxophone amid ballad “Lying in the Hands of God” resemble a Peter Gabriel-Kenny G duet. (In fact, most of the album’s slower moments sound this anemic.)
King’s only other weak link is Matthews’ lyrics, but it’s pointless to rag on Möbius-strip poetry such as, “The thing I like about you/Is the way you/The way that you do/The thing I like about you.” These words—and other sentiments about love, seduction and feeling good—are tailored toward the DMB live experience, where the cheesy turns transcendent via musicianship and audience camaraderie.