Zen jam: Neither good nor bad, just....
When I was studying Buddhism in college, I had a professor who used to repeat the same mantra over and over to the class.
"There is no good or bad, there just is," he would drone. The statement itself is simple, but there are so many levels to it. Taking things as they are and not passing judgment frees up mental space to concentrate on what really matters in my life.
However, when it comes to music, I'm critical of myself and others. I like what I like, and I find it hard to accept what I don't like. Most art (music included) is made to evoke emotion, good or bad. Music that "just is," I can do without. I'd rather like or dislike a band or CD than have no feeling for it at all.
This brings me to my experience at The Outback Lodge Friday, August 19, when Waynesboro band Calf Mountain Jam was performing. My first criticism of the band is the name. Even though many people know that there's a peak by the Skyline Drive called Calf Mountain, the band's name just doesn't pique even the smallest iota of curiosity in me. As far as I'm concerned, it could have been the name of an organic condiment as well as of a band.
Calf Mountain Jam is a standard southern psychedelic rock outfit with a five-piece lineup and a loyal hippie following. I must say they're a good bunch of musicians. Each player knows his instrument inside and out. As individuals, I'm sure they could hold their own with the best of 'em.
But as a group, their music had a whiff of Zen: it wasn't bad or good, it just was. Truth is, I left The Outback Lodge feeling nothing for the group. The songs were well written, but they didn't draw me in. They also were good enough musicians to not make me want to run to the bathroom every ten minutes, but there was nothing spectacular about them, either.
The psychedelic jam portions of some songs were safe and precise but lacked the kind of exploration that makes psychedelic jams easy to zone out to. I just sat there and watched, wondering what I was missing.
Maybe they played it a little too safe. I didn't hear much original– I've heard bands like Calf Mountain Jam before. Not saying that this is good or bad, it just... is. I suppose there's a place for bands who just want to do the standard fare. Not everyone is looking for the next coolest thing. And not everyone has an attention span as short as mine and needs to be wowed every three minutes or so.
But then again, there's only so far a band can go if it doesn't try to do something unique, if the musicians don't try to push the envelope a little bit. Even if they shoot for something big and miss, at least they took a shot.
More than likely I'll get mail from Calf Mountain Jam fans criticizing what I am writing here. If I do, the writers will be missing the point of the article.
This isn't a good review or a bad review, it's just a review of a band that's not a good band or a bad band. It's just... a band.