The Buddhahood has bounded around town beating the drum --- lots of 'em actually, djembes, dunums, surdos, snare drums, bongos, congos, and tamborines --- on a polyrhythmic spree for the past 10 years. Live, the band is all-consuming and primal in the extreme. There is no resisting this throbbing, world-beat extravaganza.
The band is known for frequently breaking the imaginary dam at the edge of the stage, spilling over into the audience in a procession of shimmy-inducing drums. Buddhahood shows in the past have come just a couple shades shy of a full-blown hippie free-for-all.
And now there's Muddy Roots: a new album that took the band three years to make. It's undoubtedly the 'Hood, but the band has augmented its sound with sharp horn accents, Caribbean spice (thanks to the steel drum), and a laidback lean on the one-drop. There's even a little dash of Neville-style Big Easy spice in there as well. It sounds big and bold, casual and free. The polyrhythmic drums are still there, but in its maturity The Buddhahood is now, well, poly-everything.
"Maybe that's the reason this CD took three years to come out," says vocalist-saxophonist-flutist-hand percussionist Drew Bellavia. "Because when the pan came in and the horns came in, it really revolutionized the sound of the band and the context of the band. It's not as freewheelin' as it used to be, maybe."
But there's still a lot going on. All eight members are multi-instrumental. And for a band that seems so improvisational, you'd think it hard to focus the chaos and get it on tape.
"I think a lot of what makes its way into the studio was written on the fly," says steel drummer-vocalist-saxophonist-hand percussionist Dave Ferreira. "Somebody, usually in the horn section, will go 'oh what was that thing?' and make a note of it. And then it finds its way in in some form."
"Or I might forget the bass line," says bassist-vocalist-hand percussionist Rick Whitney, "and go into a completely different new riff."
"This man is the catalyst for a lot of oddities in live performance," Ferreira says of Whitney. "He knows his stuff but we may come to the end of a song and wham Rick is the one who'll kick in something none of us were expecting."
The songs develop organically while they get gig-tested and fan-approved.
"There isn't a single song on this album we haven't played a lot out," says Bellavia. But what appears on the album is often treated as a suggestion for live performances.
"The music plays you," says Whitney. "That's what The Buddhahood is all about."
The majority of the lead vocals on Muddy Roots are handled by vocalist-guitarist-hand percussionist Tony Cavagnaro. Cavagnaro sings all nonchalant and smoky. You can almost hear the crack of a wry smile.
"I think you're hearing contentment," says Ferreira.
"I'm looking forward to my dirt sleep / but I'm not ready yet / I still haven't built my castle / or even put up a shed,"Cavagnaro sings over a lazy reggae backdrop. The lyrics are simple and fun, if not a little humorously curmudgeonly here and there.
With the launch of the new CD, The Buddhahood is looking to spread the gospel, especially in college bookings. The pitch? Drum workshops with the band during the day followed by a concert at night.
And The Buddhahood encourages audience drumming at shows, which occasionally opens a can of conga worms.
"You're always going to have a problem with somebody who's had far too many beers and all of a sudden thinks they're a great djembe player," says Bellavia.
The Buddhahoodcelebrates the release of Muddy Roots Friday, January 20, at The German House, 315 Gregory Street, 303-2234, at 9 p.m. $10. 18+ For more info go to www.buddhahood.com