"There is nothing like the stink of an overly loud guitar." —Frank Zappa
Durham, NC resident Mike Babyak includes the above quotation on his Facebook page, and the fine new album from his band Triple Fret certainly lives up to this notion — listeners will indeed hear lots of guitar work, but no tracks are likely to evoke Zappa’s acerbic sentiment. Instead, music lovers will hear well-produced, tasteful playing in a vast array of styles, all of which add up to an enjoyable disc of what one is at first tempted to pigeonhole as jam rock.
But labeling Triple Fret — which also includes Mike Rosado on percussion and E. Scott Warren on bass, with Babyak on lead guitar and vocals — as a jam band is painting the group with far too specific a brush. While several of the initial tunes feel reminiscent of jam rock icons like String Cheese Incident and Bay Area six-string virtuoso Steve Kimock (who receives a shout-out in the acknowledgments), the array of styles on display over the course of this 12 song album indicates a trio of musicians — and
songwriters — who are well-versed in any number of styles.
Fear not, however — this isn’t a garage band of kids flailing around in every direction looking for some sense of identity. By contrast, these are clearly seasoned players out to demonstrate that sometimes the old aphorism of being expert at everything, but master of nothing, is inappropriate to apply in this case. Add the world-beat of “Everybody’s Africa” to the swampy slide-guitar work on “Eyes on the Prize,” throw in a couple of reggae driven cuts and some blues-boogie, and the result? Triple Fret is a
band that not only knows its genres, but knows them inside out.
By the time of the haunting, Latin-themed “Mexolina Dream” arrives, the album takes yet another stylistic turn, and it’s a memorably melodic one. Like so many bands full of virtuosi guitar pickers, however, it’s worth noting that, while the musicianship is more
than accomplished, a song like “Mexolina” might benefit from having a stronger vocalist that Babyak, who is adequate and earnest, but has what seems to be only a modest range at his disposal.
On the other hand, the gentle rocker “Beethoven’s Birthday” seems perfectly suited to the vocalist at the mic, and also features a lovely, light-fingered solo from bassist Warren. The song’s title might offer a shout-out to one of the great classical composers, but its lyrics invoke not Beethoven, but rather the vital essence of rock and roll itself: “Sturm und drang/echo and twang/wine-stained memory/fever and melody.” “Love is a Test,” the only cut on the record not credited to the three band members, features another fine slide solo from Babyak — for all the stylistic shifts, he clearly loves that swampy sound, which is evocative of redneck jammers Mofro — as well as some of the most aggressive, controlled drumming work from Rosado.
“Las Almas Heridas” ends the CD on an impressionistic note, and takes the listener in yet another different direction: with its dreamlike, percussive intro, an ethereal and contemplative soundscape forms and then fades away, a fascinating, albeit brief, coda to what’s been a extraordinarily enjoyable collection of music. Very highly recommended.