Copper Box is a Wisconsin band that calls Oshkosh home (two of the four members hail from the 'Kosh) that – despite the fact I have now witnessed them live thirteen times (a true enough fact that at show #12, bassist Kevin Junemann asked me if I was "sick of them" yet – answer: no) - they still prove enigmatic when it comes to classification. They are a Roots/Americana/Polka/Conjunto/Tejano/Zydeco ensemble. Clear as mud? It really doesn't matter, because the fact is this: they are ridiculously talented. In 2011, I reviewed their previous album "People Change" and discussed each member in-depth. If you are unfamiliar with Copper Box, you may want to revisit that review before moving on. The link below should take you there. I'll wait patiently until you return.
Welcome back. "After The Rain" is the band's 7th album and is their strongest to date for two major reasons: production and cohesion. I would be a big old fibber if I didn't say that the live Copper Box experience is where the gold lies. Many bands create an album and do their best to capture the feeling in the live arena. The Box is the opposite … the challenge lies in capturing the live experience on disc (or vinyl … I'm keeping fingers crossed for some limited vinyl releases). "After The Rain" is produced and engineered by Boxer Danny Jerabek and – more than any previous album – "Rain" has a loose, airy feel that eschews gloss for a clear, intimate feel. This helps the listener get a feel for the magic … be it the interplay between the instruments or the fun ad-lib vocal hoots and hollers, no previous album feels quite this open.
Another reason "After The Rain" works so well is that the band is really starting to develop an identity. Long viewed as a polka-ish, rock band, Copper Box at its heart (or at least direction) is rooted in American Roots music. Sure, that is as descriptive as saying ice cream is "cold," but it's true. The heart of the Box hangs in circles with American standard styles … Creedence swamp-choogin', Zydeco/Conjunto by way of Raitt-blues and Dr. John. While every Copper Box album flirts with a variety of genres, "Rain" really reins the overall collection of styles into one focused offering that feels related start to finish.
Like other albums, the track list consists of originals with a sprinkling of cover songs. First, let's talk about the originals. Michelle Jerabek sings the lion share of the self-penned songs, her voice falling somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi with a bit more grit than either … which works. Songs like "Did Your Mama Ever Tell You No," "If You Are My Lover," and "Stand With Me In The Rain" have the same smoldering, roots/blues feel that the aforementioned ladies do so well. "Workin' Man" ups the ante a bit, taking the format and squeezing it through a healthy dose of CCR swamp drone (and some nifty vocal effects up front). This can be a dangerous genre for bands to travel in as it relies more on vocal prowess than instrumental fortitude. Happily, both Michelle's performances and the understated control/musicianship of her band mates pull it off quite nicely. The Latin-infused "I Need You Around" is a pleasant track, with a variety of percussion adding flourish to a tasteful bass and accordion backbone. "On The Island" is an interesting offering to be sure … a bluesy number with a sound that is hard to get my head around. It does have a great "island" feel, but not of the Caribbean (no steel drums here) … it lazily lopes forward with an excellent flute middle-section that really makes me want to be drinking an umbrella drink on a white sand beach. Good stuff.
The cover songs are – as always – top-notch. The 1970 Mungo Jerry classic "In The Summertime" gets all Boxed up here, leaving its jug-band roots and growing into something with swagger, accordion, and straight up Treme boogie. This track captures the Copper Box live experience in a nutshell. A rock-solid, yet inventive rhythm section supporting ultra-fun interplay between Danny and Michelle's vocals/ad-libs and lead instrumentation. It's the looseness in the cover tunes that I'd like to see more of in the originals, but I do understand that it's easier to come unhinged when it's someone elses composition – let alone the fact that Roots music isn't known/based in hootenany exploration. "Lara's Theme/Somewhere My Love" from Doctor Zhivago gets Boxed as well … emerging as a blistering ska that demonstrates Kevin Junemann's bass prowess, Jason Van Ryzin's endlessly inventive fills, and Michelle Jerabek's blistering sax work. Again, the feel here is damn close to the live experience, with Danny Jerabek's hoots and hollers (and Green Bay Packer references) steering the ship. A classic in the cover canon, this. Proving just how deep their knowledge of musical standards goes, the band offers up Esteban "The Hendrix of the Accordion" Jordan's Conjunto/Tejano classic "Hazte Garras" and the German Schlager-style (light, sentimental ballad) "Seeman" ("Sailor"). The former is a pleasure simply for the fact that Junemann, Van Ryzin and Danny Jerabek let 'er rip, instrumentally. It's almost criminal how good all four members are on their instruments. Criminal. The latter is lovely, with Michelle singing in German (!) and a nice middle-break featuring penny whistle. The song was a German-language, U.S. hit for Lolita in 1959/1960 … only Nena's "99 Luftballons" in 1983 has charted higher.
So, it's like this: Copper Box is special. They are a traveling encyclopedia of traditional styles with the talent and moxy to pull it off. "After The Rain" is their most solid effort to date: it captures and represents what the band is about in one nice, neat package. I recommend seeing them live any time they are in your area. If you do, you will want this album as a souvenir to tide you over until they come around again. If they won't be in your area soon, get this album … you'll get a great overall feel for what they are about and you'll be ready for when they do.
Who Will Like This Album: Fans of Roots, Zydeco, Polka, Tejano, etc. will not be disappointed. Fans of music/musicianship in all of its forms will be excited.
Who Won't Like This Album: I'm guessing if you don't like Americana and your thing is Rap, Top 40 Pop, or Nu-Metal, you probably won't dig this … but maybe you should expand your horizons.
To hear/find out more, head on over here: http://copperboxband.com