This may seem pedantic, I’m afraid, but I am hardly more prepared to call this band “Marshall Tucker” than I am to call a Mike Love aggregation “The Beach Boys.” When the band’s presiding genius is absent—and even when that genius is the late Toy Caldwell, not exactly in Brian Wilson’s league—it seems at best a stretch, and at worst a scam, to continue performing under the misleading name.
Instead of Caldwell’s entertainingly inconsequential guitar work this recording keys on Doug Gray’s vocals. Gray has always been able to imply if not embody rootedness, thereby complementing the musical experimentation of the early days of the MTB, especially its Caldwell-inspired explorations of country, Western swing, jazz, and the blues. Now his voice seems less supple, but otherwise no more lived-in; Gray has achieved no grainy depths to make up for his middle-aged inability to swing. And the band is just not up to pushing him along, not even when Paul Riddle, an oldtimer, sits in for two songs. Simply put, this version of the band lumbers along, leadfooted when it ought to be light.
Because I grew up in Spartanburg, SC, the Marshall Tucker Band was my “local scene” throughout my high-school and early college years. Therefore, I probably overestimated them. But I listen to their early recordings now and hear talent that went nowhere or that went untapped, especially in the rhythmic lightness of their blues excursions. This once was a band that could have developed into a consistently crowd-pleasing jam-rock ensemble, a direction it has gone in on occasion, but which it seems too tired to pursue with any consistency. And even if twenty-minute improvisations are better left to the Dead or Allmans (or, perhaps, better left alone) there is still something to be said for that kind of musical silliness, that heroic foray into the melodic underbrush which passed years back, and still passes in some good ol’ boy quarters, for hard-earned strength and grace.