Before I get too distracted by how amazing this album is, I have a confession to make. Though I've heard songs from the Dave Matthews Band over the years on the radio and I've caught Matthews himself while acting on television shows like House, I've never been a huge fan. The music was good, but I'd heard so much of it on the radio that I never felt compelled to buy an album — until now.
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King serves as a reminder that through tragedy comes growth. And with growth you never quite know where it will take you. For DMB, the departure of keyboardist Butch Taylor and the wake of LeRoi Moore's ATV accident and his death a month later would serve as both a wake-up call and a seemingly cathartic event for many of the songs on this album. Though I too mourned the loss of LeRoi as a young musician whose life was tragically cut short, I can't help but think that Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King is better for it.
Though DMB has focused on philosophical and social issues in the lyrics of past albums, the lyrics of Big Whiskey are amazingly poetic and deep. "Funny the Way It Is," the album's first single, makes it impossible to miss its comparisons between different people in different situations — "A soldier's last breath / His baby's being born / Funny the way it is / Not right or wrong / Somebody's broken heart / Becomes your favorite song." They're trying to get people to see beyond their lives into the lives of others, which I think stems from them having lost their own friend. I know from past experience that the death of a friend is life-altering in ways we sometimes don't perceive for years. And in some ways, I'm sure writing and performing these songs help band members accept the change and move on.
In addition, as a sax player I am all too aware of the difference between an okay, good, and an amazing saxman. LeRoi was great on all of the previous DMB albums and perhaps that made Jeff Coffin — who stepped in to fill the huge hole LeRoi left behind — bring his A-game to the table. Coffin, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame, also has had one heck of a prestigious career, playing with the Flecktones since 1997, recording several independent albums, and winning a Grammy. So to have someone with his talent step in to help out the DMB on tour and on Big Whiskey was huge.