In the Wake serves as a declaration that Tea Leaf Green are still in it to win it.
These San Francisco jam-rockers have long had a knack for writing hooky tunes that serve as vehicles for improv, but with the jams serving the songs. The band has gone deep into the well here to create an album rich with cathartic power that feels like a complete work of art.
It’s not a concept album, but it has a running theme of celebratory catharsis in the wake of some personal tragedies. The band has painted their most complex sonic tapestry yet, overflowing with auditory bells and whistles that show mature musicians using all their skills to accent their longtime love of down to earth rock and roll.
“Shooting for the moon, we’ve got nothing left to lose but our minds," sings keyboardist Trevor Garrod on opening track “Someday”. There’s an instant connection for any dreamer who feels like the 21st century hasn’t yet panned out with one’s hopes and dreams. The track pulls the listener right in for a sonic journey with a compelling array of twists and turns throughout the course of the album. The band harmonizes beautifully on the trippy title track involving an emotional road trip, and In the Wake makes a great soundtrack for a long drive, one of the hallmarks of a great album that holds up from start to finish.
Garrod delivers one of his catchiest tunes yet with the first single, “Give Me One More Chance”. The tune features an infectious bass line from bassist Reed Mathis, a guest female vocal from Leslie Grant for a duet with Garrod on a plea for love, and some great guest slide guitar from Animal Liberation Orchestra’s Jeff Lebowitz, who teams splendidly with guitarist Josh Clark. Mathis steps up to sing on “One Condition’s Enough” and “Don’t Go”, a pair of complex love songs that feature Beatlesque production harkening to the Sgt. Pepper era. We always knew Mathis was a virtuoso bassist with deep appreciation for rock history, but here we see him continuing to grow as an artist.
Clark’s acoustic “Space Hero III (Forever in Space)” exhibits a gorgeous Jimmy Page influence, updated for the modern era in a heartfelt interlude about “trying to find our place in the human race”. Drummer Scott Rager and percussionist Cochrane McMillan star with Garrod on “Two Parts”, a compelling rocker with a tight beat and some of Garrod’s deepest vocals. The song is beautifully layered, with the band showing a sonic mastery of a recording studio’s potential that many jambands fail to grasp. There’s more great tandem percussion on Clark’s rocking “Space Hero IV (Letters Home)”, with the guitarist cutting loose for one of his trademark blistering solos on a great jam that finds the quintet totally synched in.
The infectious piano pop rock of “We Aren’t Done” seems to function not only as a great album closer, but as a band statement to a world in which the dynamic quintet is underappreciated, that they are far from ready to throw in the towel. Garrod is easily one of the most talented singer/songwriters of his generation and In the Wake serves as a declaration that Tea Leaf Green are still in it to win it.