Wilderness and Space
The Contribution’s debut record, Which Way World (2010), had the band hailed as a “jamband supergroup.” With the band members having obligations in other bands, they do not record frequently but in 2017, The Contribution released seven tracks from this album, Wilderness and Space, with full proceeds from each single going to a different non-profit organization, apropos for the band’s name. The full ten-song album will be out on all digital platforms on August 23. The three new songs are “Back This Way,” the title track, and “This Too Shall Pass.”
The Contribution is the brainchild of Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth (violin, guitar, vocals) together with Phil Ferlino (keyboards, vocals), and Jeff Miller (guitar, vocals) of New Monsoon. Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident) has been the bass player from the band’s inception, along with vocalist Sheryl Renee (The Black Swan Singers). The drum chair was previously occupied by Matt Butler (Everyone Orchestra), and Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic); both who appear on the album. Will Trask (Great American Taxi) will be performing for the album release shows.
The album opens with the soulful Renee singing “Dream Out In The Rain,” is a song about having the courage to dream and believing in yourself, with the lyrics “Don’t wait to start… Today’s the new tomorrow… Open your heart… And your story will follow.” The pulsating, uplifting beats to “It Ain’t No Sin” with Ferlino’s pounding piano disguise the rather serious subject about the psyche of shame. Then follows the folk-rock “Passengers of Darkness,” highlighted by Carbone’s fiddle as they address addiction.
It’s the alternation of the light with the dark subjects, the shifting vocalists and soloists that keep the album engaging. No two tunes sound very similar, keeping it unpredictable. For example, “Back This Way” is a duet between a male and a female (Renee) about how the man’s constant traveling is taking a toll on their relationship, which eventually gets resolved. “The Great Boot” is about remembering to take the time to love and appreciate those that love you.
The mood then turns a bit dark again with “Somewhere On a Train,” a standout track about pain, rendered as a slow contemplative waltz, with Carbone’s violin setting the tone at the outset. “Oh No” speaks to regret but carries a bright melody before the lengthy title track which may encapsulate the album’s major theme – dealing with life’s struggles resiliently. Several voices join after Ferlin’s spacey piano intro which combines with the guitars later in true jam band fashion, as the tune goes through several changes.
Carbone apparently wrote “This Too Shall Pass” after Miller’s mother passed away from breast cancer.” Renee brings the requisite emotive vocal on this ballad with the background vocals taking on a choir effect. Miller delivers a searing blues guitar solo. It is another clear standout. “So Long, Farewell” is a dreamy way to close and is a strange, rather inaccessible track, owing more to free jazz and psychedelia.
Excepting the close, don’t make the mistake of passing this off as just another jam band album. These are solid songs with masterful musicianship, soloing, and the ever soulful vocals of Sheryl Renee. The Contribution somehow coherently melds very different influences into a solid album that would fool anyone who didn’t know it’s practically been two years in the making.
- Jim Hynes