State Radio: Chetro (vocals, guitar, trombone); Chuck (vocals, piano, organ, bass guitar); Mad Dog (vocals, drums, percussion).
Additional personnel: Beth Porter (cello); T. Blake.
State Radio's sophomore effort shines its brightest when it leaves the jam band world behind, choosing instead to focus on raucous, semi-punky rhythms and left-wing social commentary. With song titles like "Guantanamo," "CIA," and "Fall of the American Empire," the bandmates make no attempt to hide their political agenda as they point a collective finger at the "torture advocates" and "crooked white chiefs" who run the country. The lyrics are poignant, especially when they're combined with the buzzing basslines and high-pitched, harmonized vocals that make "Guantanamo" such an effective leadoff track. "Rash of Robberies" follows a similar trajectory, mixing full-throttled rock-outs and urgent wordplay with slow, quieter passages. Chad Urmston pushes his voice to its upper limit, his lyrics clumping together in one sweaty mass as the band pulses beneath him. Here, Urmston's messages of revolution and awareness are backed with equal enthusiasm from the group, and Year of the Crow glows as a result.
But elsewhere, State Radio abandons that formula in order to focus on the band's jam-happy past, which results in a number of white-boy reggae tunes and misguided attempts at funk. As was the case with Us Against the Crown, the band seems tempted to take up permanent residence in this cloudy hodgepodge of jam genres -- and, indeed, they stay mired in such material for a good portion of the disc, playing easygoing tunes that sport such mantras as "I will fight no more, forever" (which Urmston delivers in his best Jamaica-by-way-of-Vermont accent). State Radio does have a message to convey, but they'd do better to set themselves apart from their noodle-dancing brethren by focusing on songs that are as volatile and urgent as the words Urmston writes. ~ Andrew Leahey