In the past five years, Great American Taxi has become one of the best-known headliners on the jam band circuit, their uninhibited sound a swinging concoction of swampy blues, progressive bluegrass, funky New Orleans strut, Southern boogie, honky tonk, gospel and good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll. That loose, anything-can-happen feel is the hallmark of Reckless Habits, the band’s second album, which was recorded in Loveland, Colo., with producer Tim Carbone (from Railroad Earth) working together to bring the feel of an onstage performance to the recording process.
Street date for the new album, which will be released through Thirty Tigers, is March 2, 2010.
When banjo player Mark Vann of Leftover Salmon died of cancer in 2002, the band lost momentum. Salmon singer/guitarist/mandolinist Vince Herman had a few rough years and survived a broken neck before joining keyboardist Chad Staehly for a superstar jam to benefit the Rainforest Action Group in Boulder in March 2005. “We put together a dream band of the best local musicians for a one-off gig,” Herman recalls. “It worked so well we had to do it again, and again, and again.” The band’s current lineup includes Herman, Staehly, guitarists Jeff Hamer and Jim Lewin, bassist Brian Adams and drummer Chris Sheldon.
Great American Taxi has been compared with roots rockers like New Riders of the Purple Sage, Grateful Dead, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, the Byrds and Little Feat. Herman finds the comparisons flattering. “We’re definitely connected to all the acts in the country/rock spectrum, as well as the spirit of Gram Parsons and Woody Guthrie,” he says. “We want to address the issues appropriate to our times, while making music that gets people up and moving.”
“The band is a true democracy,” Staehly adds. “We tinkered with the tunes on the road, with everybody having input. In the studio, Tim would suggest ideas to make them sound bigger and brighter.” Carbone brought in the Black Swan Singers — Sheryl Renee, CoCo Brown and Shelly Lindsey — to add gospel flavored backing vocals. He also brought the Peak to Freak Horns — Justin Jones, sax; Nathan Peoples, sax; Dan Sears, trumpet; and Dave Stamps, trombone — for some New Orleans-style brass accents, as well as pedal steel player Barry Sless (Dane Nelson Band, Moonalice) and banjo man Matt Flinner.
The 13 tracks on Reckless Habits gleefully stretch the boundaries of American roots music with a nod to both tradition and the future. The title track, for instance — Staehly’s salute to Gram Parsons — is as country as it is rock, a rousing honky-tonk tune with Carbone’s fiddle and Sless’ pedal steel kicking up the sawdust on a Saturday night dance floor. The titles of several other Parsons songs appear in the lyrics, and there’s a definite Cosmic Cowboy vibe to the band’s expansive playing. Staehly’s “American Beauty” tips its hat to the Grateful Dead, and features an extended jam. Herman’s “Cold Lonely Town” is a slow R&B tune that describes life during long Colorado winters. The Black Swan Singers add smoky doo-wop asides to Herman’s poignant vocal. Carbone has described its swampy laid-back vibe as “’A Day in the Life’ meets Gram Parsons in the high desert.” And that’s to name only a few of the album’s 13 songs (plus a 14th song, a hidden track, “Parade”).
The CD will be housed in a die-cut package designed by artist Greg Carr, who designed Steve Martin’s The Crow. “Greg has a picture of nuns smoking on the cover, wearing Reckless Habits,” Herman explains. “We want to give people something unique, so they won’t just burn it and pass it on.”
And finally, the band’s cryptic name refers to Herman’s unique skiing style. “A friend of mine once said I came downhill looking like a great American taxi — a large, lumbering object that’s totally out of control and coming downhill towards you faster and faster. It seemed to fit the band’s m.o., so we adopted it.”