Hippie music from… Pittsburgh?

Rusted Root: When I Woke

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A couple of Saturdays ago, Marion and I were in a bar, listening to a band [no one who knows us is exactly keeling over from shock at this news]. The bar was Nick’s, on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, and the excellent cover band Big Sweaty Men was on break.

The bartender who isn’t Damien [I’m embarrassed that I don’t know his name, but since Damien always takes care of me, I just think of him as “Not Damien”] had one of his cool music mixes playing on his iPod through the bar’s sound system. Suddenly, mid-conversation, one of the tunes forced its way into my brain. Send Me on my Way, by Rusted Root.

I bought their major label debut CD, When I Woke, when it came out in’94. Marion and I fell in love with it and played it to death. We all know how that turns out, don’t we—one day we were utterly and completely sick of it. Even seeing the jewel case among our CDs would make me cringe. That is, until “Not Damien” [whose parents may have dubbed him Eric, although I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law] played that one tune at Nick’s. Now it’s back in [if not heavy, then moderate] rotation.

Rusted Root blends the jam band rock of groups like the Grateful Dead and Phish with heavy percussion influences from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East [no drum kits here—all much more organic, even tribal stuff]. They also throw in flute and plenty of vocal harmony—all but one of the six members [four guys, two girls] sings. The result is a nice indie/alt/world music mix. Hippie music.

The 13 tracks mix it up quite a bit—musically, tempowise and lyricswise—but it all hangs together beautifully. And if the description above makes the music sound a little precious or twee, trust me, it’s not. Even though it’s mostly acoustic, this album rocks with plenty of energy and drive from the very first cut, and the lyrics deliver a satisfying mix of hope and darkness. All of which adds up to music that will get you moving and keep you listening.

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