One and Only
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jul
Like MercyMe and Paul Colman Trio, Big Daddy Weave has enjoyed considerable success as an independent band before getting signed by a major label. It's an increasingly smart trend in Christian music these days that practically guarantees the group an audience (i.e. sales) when the record label release the national debut album. Big Daddy Weave started in the University of Alabama college circuit, where the five members were attending school. The "big daddy" of the band is Mike Weaver, the lead vocalist, acoustic guitarist, and songwriter who has a self-deprecating sense of humor about his beefy size. He's joined by his brother Jay, who handles bass and backing vocals, and three other college friends: Jeff Jones (drums, percussion), Jeremy Redmon (guitars and backing vocals), and Joe Shirk (keyboards, backing vocals, and saxophone). These are five young men who enjoy playing music together and honoring the Lord through their craft, and that much is apparent when listening to their national debut, One and Only.
I'll cut to the chase about the one thing that frustrates me about Big Daddy Weave. Like Kevin Max (dc Talk) on his solo debut, the band prominently wears their musical influences on their sleeve … and then directs you to the sleeve with giant neon billboards. Over the years, I've encountered several music instructors, record label executives, and A&R directors who offer the same advice to budding songwriters: "You need to be more than a composite of your favorite artists." Said differently, it's impossible not to be influenced by your favorite artists, and it's okay to purposefully share a sound with another artist to some extent, but be sure to infuse the music with your unique artistic imprint. Big Daddy Weave almost plays more like a cover band that alternately pays tribute to Dave Matthews Band, Sting, FFH, and Steven Curtis Chapman
Consider their song "Neighborhoods," which perfectly captures the spirit of Dave Matthews Band, blending funky pop rock with Mike's rhythmic acoustic guitar, Joe's ear-grabbing saxophone, and a number of jazz-rock licks. The first couple of minutes are Dave Matthews influenced, but it still feels original. Then comes the acoustic guitar breakdown, which is remarkably similar to the breakdown in Dave Matthews Band's "What Would You Say," complete with the sound of a bunch of guys cheering and having a good time. This is followed by another riff which sounds a lot like the famed hook from the hit "Ants Marching." There's a difference between mimicking the Dave Matthews Band sound through the addition of a saxophone, and falling just short of stealing a hook directly from the band. Nevertheless, "Neighborhoods" is a very fun song with spirited lyrics to match the joyful sound: "When I say my last farewell, please don't forget to tell them that I'm not really dead, I'm just changing neighborhoods."
So it goes with the rest of this enjoyable debut: broadly appealing and well-performed roots pop that never quite allows the listener to enjoy the band for what they are, but rather for who they sound like. I absolutely love "Never Goin' Back," a song about new life in Christ in which Mike gives the best Sting impersonation I've ever heard. A co-worker of mine played me the jazz-flavored funk-pop song before I heard the album, telling me it was Sting's latest … and I fell for it, because the affectations and pronunciations are solid. Most of the other songs sound like some combination of Dave Matthews Band, Steven Curtis Chapman, and FFH (Jeromy Deibler makes his non-FFH production debut with this album). "Friend Like You" combines elements of Steven Curtis Chapman's "King of the Jungle," Bebo Norman's "Stand," and Dave Matthews' "Everyday." To the band's credit, they know how to use the saxophone as effectively as Dave Matthews Band by using it as a melodic hook and not just as a solo instrument. Joe's saxophone may well be the primary reason Big Daddy Weave grabs your attention. Without it, the first single, "In Christ," sounds like basic Christian pop – still catchy, but not unique.
Despite the band's similarities to other better artists, it's hard to dislike Big Daddy Weave's music. "Rest" may bear a slight resemblance to Dave Matthews' "Crash Into Me," but the combination of the music (especially the soprano sax) with the comforting words of Matthew 11:28 is irresistible. Both the title track and "Being in Love with You" recall the mid-'90s sound of Steven Curtis Chapman, but how many songwriters are able to write on par with the Christian music legend? For that matter, how many bands can successfully pull off the Dave Matthews Band sound? Really, the only songs that don't work for me are the worshipful ones, such as "Sacrifice" and "Exalted Forever" (which features a guest appearance by FFH), because they feel too much like songs that have been recorded by Christian artists before.
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