Know Your Roots

Rusted Root delivers another musical change-up with The Movement

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Rusted Root, Ted Riser, Wanyama

6 p.m. Thursday, April 18

Agora Theatre

5000 Euclid Ave.


Tickets: $29.25

We're all walking our own spiritual paths in life.

Although, if you're listening to Rusted Root these days, you're more likely dancing along your spiritual path.

The band's 1994 debut When I Woke brought with it sterling levels of success and a niche that, on first blush, would seem difficult to escape. But rather than collect dust and bottom-of-the-bag shake over the years, the album has grown up. And so has the band. A certain spiritual maturity is reflected in the band members and in their steadily growing catalog of tribally awakened sonic journeys.

Last October, the band released The Movement, a back-to-basics testament of the Rusted Root ethos. Bolder than other recent efforts, the album's many rivers run through themes such as grassroots political movements, purely physical dance movements and inner-being, soul-stirring movements. The band has always espoused an introspective worldview, and the songwriting efforts highlight the importance of all types of movement.

"That's what really creates change," guitarist and lead singer Michael Glabicki says. He's been dancing and rocking out for years at the helm of the band. He's also politically active and very much in tune with his interactions with the world around him.

But don't mistake any of the band's philosophical meanderings for high-falutin bombast. The band members' good-natured sense of humor is evident throughout the latest album. Cases in point: The uber-catchy single "Monkey Pants" and the unique structure of "In Our Sun." The latter is a druggy dirge laden with all sorts of swampy effects. It'll make your head twist around in an attempt to identify themes, but you'll be sure to crack a keen smile throughout.

All this new material stems from the constant growth — the ebbing, the flowing — of Rusted Root's career. Each successive album brings a wholly distinct sound and a more distant mile marker relative to the critically acclaimed debut and the omnipresent single "Send Me On My Way." In other words, this ain't the same band that you and your buddies tossed on as background music betwixt bong hits in college.

Going forward, Glabicki and the rest of the band's indie spirit transposes itself onstage, where the live show takes place and navigates the trajectory. It's the pinnacle of the Rusted Root community.

"We had in mind the live show and what we felt the live show needed," Glabicki says of the writing process behind The Movement. Each song begins as a seedling of sorts, and eventually grows into a mighty redwood or a wise conifer. Mindful evolution is not only the band's modus operandi — it's also the natural state of affairs for the music.

"Whenever possible, we kinda change things up," he adds, in regard to songs' maturation over time. Call them a jam band, if you will; the Rusted Root mentality has always thrived on spontaneity and the unexpected nature of the spiritual path. For now, the new material from The Movement is still in its infancy, but Glabicki notes that songs like "Cover Me Up" are starting to lend themselves to a bit of open-ended playing. "They are definitely living creatures and they just keep growing."

Via live shows — years of touring, to be clear — and a steady river of fresh records, Rusted Root has expounded on the sound initially served up on When I Woke. The path in life walked by Glabicki and Co. has taken them through all sorts of fascinating musical jungles and canyons, and it's a sure bet that they aren't the same people they used to be.

Three founding members remain: Glabicki, singer-percussionist Liz Berlin and singer-bassist Patrick Norman. They're joined by guitarist Colter Harper, percussionist Preach Freedom and guitarist Dirk Miller. With a revised cast list and an independent label approach to music marketing, the band has continued to carve its own niche in fresh, surprising ways each time an albums rolls out.

"If we had kept doing what we were doing, I don't think we would have survived," he says. "People in our fanbase definitely trust that what we're doing means something to us and is a path in our own lives."

And critical response following each album has been overwhelmingly positive. It's clear that, especially on The Movement, Rusted Root isn't rushing the magic. They're known for sketching out tunes on the road, beginning with hearty rhythms and straight-up-from-the-soul chanting and grunting.

"I tend to focus on the undercurrent of the music — the tones, the rhythms. I find emotional and spiritual meaning in those tones first," Glabicki says of the songwriting process. Even as far back as 1994's "Send Me On My Way," it's clear that wordless chants come forth to form the backbone of Rusted Root's message. (Remember that song's infamous scat? ..."ombaseyo" "babadese, babadeya"...)

"There's emotion that comes up through the music and the tones," Glabicki says. "Once a doorway opens up at that point, then the lyrics unfold through those tones. It ends up feeling like it was meant to be that way."

And those rhythmic vertebrae have always been a fundamental element of Rusted Root's music — sometimes expounded on with lyrics, other times left purely instrumental. "Up and All Around" evokes the jam-friendly "Drum Trip" from years ago. An initial, pulsing rhythm leads the way to heavy guitar chords and Gablicki's crooning vocals. (There's also a really terrific live take of that song on the album.) It's indicative of the band's penchant for collaborative composition work in the studio.

"Maybe in the future there will be more of that," he says with a sly note of ever-loving optimism in the air.

Between Glabicki's solo material and Rusted Root's affinity for constant growth and progress, you can certainly look forward to that

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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