This year's regional 10,000 Lakes Festival Cosmic Break Contest has unearthed several diamonds in the rough. Among those uncovered this year is the Wisconsin blues-tinged, gypsy-laced, rock band Enchanted Ape. Though they didn't win a place in the contest, they were asked to play the festival based on their talent. Enchanted Ape is always in the groove and produces a well-rounded set with unexpected touches. Originally, only one guitarist and three percussionists, the band has nearly doubled its members. It also welcomes guests on harmonica, bass, saxophone, and even electric cello and violin. No matter the configuration, Enchanted Ape produces a full sound that is precise and crisp with strong vocals. There's enough going on here for anybody.
Enchanted Ape takes their name from Thomas Carlyle's (1843) written comment about non-conformists, where he states, "...and thou art as an Enchanted Ape under God's sky, where thou mightest have been a man, had proper schoolmasters and conquerors, and constables with cat o'nine tails, been vouchsafed thee...." Enchanted Ape welcomes being a non-conformist and feels it's an apt description of their non-genre-specific musical style.
With roots in acoustic storytelling and blues, the band also has a generous sprinkling of renegade rock, gypsy whine, and just the most amazing layers of tribal percussion from doumbek to djembe to all manner of shakers and quiros. Brad Danielson, Amanda Hawkinson, and Adam Kuchelmeister are responsible for the groove foundation that Chris O'Brien's guitar, Alec James Knutson's electric and slide guitar, and John Hurbis's bass. (Hurbis also plays percussion.)
What is most striking about Enchanted Ape beside its instrumentation is its strong lyrics and vocals. O'Brien and Knutson share the vocal honors, but it is Amanda Hawkinson's lovely vocal backup that sets Enchanted Ape far above just another jamband. That and Knutson's stirring guitar renderings that have a lyrical voice of their own.
A sampling of their songs shows just the tip of their talent. "False Flags," written by Chris O'Brien who crafts all of their songs, is a tale of the high seas and fits in with this summer's love of pirates. But the lyrics and vibe of this tune will haunt your memory long after hearing it. "Soulfood" has an island feel but has more meat than a happy trippy song. "Memphis Trouble Free" is a great bluesy Southern rock tune. But, "Fungi Lullaby" with its layers of organic meaning and exotic melody lines is destined to become a jam classic.
The band's debut album, Three Ring Symphony, was released last October.