Mike Dillon – Band of Outsiders (2014)

Gonzo vibes man Mike Dillon is the secret weapon in whatever project he’s involved with, whether it’s Garage A Trois, The Dead Kenny G’s or even Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. It’s not because he can play a killer vibraphone, marimba or xylophone, though; it’s the forceful, headfirst attitude he brings to whatever he’s playing (or singing/rapping). When Dillon’s doing his own thing, that forceful personality is in its full glory, and his brew of Frank Zappa, Medeski, Martin & Wood and his former boss Les Claypool forces any listener to fully embrace it or get completely repulsed by it. Embracing Dillon and all his eccentricities is rewarding much more often than not.

Dillon’s in-your-face madcap shenanigans is all there for his latest LP, Band of Outsiders (April 1, 2014, Royal Potato Family). Maybe even more so. His shredded voice yells, raps and sings it way through all but two of the cuts, spinning tales involving hard drugs in the Crescent City (“Great Lakes Tuna,” “7 A.M. at The Jazzfest”), mocking fear and loathing (“Celebrate the Hate”), growling an ode to a Mexican donkey (“Hero The Burro”) and poking fun at his trombone player, Carly Myers (“Carly Hates The Dubstep”).

Myers often serves as Dillon’s own Dillon, a front-line foil who arrives just in time with a brash ‘bone to take a song in another direction, especially when her horn is hooked up to trippy pedal effects (as on the song that bears her name). Patrick McDevitt (bass) and Adam Gertner (drums) make up a rhythm section that’s asked to start, stop, speed up and slow down with little time to contemplate all the changes, and they’re well up to the task. Gertner sometimes runs his bass through a fuzz amp a la Ben Folds Five to bring the heavy metal to brutish tunes like the brief but fun-packed “Hand of God” and the veering rocker “Homeland Insecurity” (“Head” features Dillon playing a fuzzy electric vibraphone that makes a fine proxy for an electric guitar, too). Gertner pilots all the unpredictable tempo changes, mastering grooves of every stripe; the African stomp on “Hand of God” and the Afro-Cuban groove on the instrumental “So Long Paul” are some of the more exotic examples.

So Dillon embraces democracy in his band but the leader gets a few good licks in on his own — that electric vibes solo on “Dubstep” is bonafide — and the tortuous construction of his songs that tightly bind lyrics to rhythm and melody would make Zappa grin. Who says musicianship has to be so damned boring, anyway?

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.