Stand at the Edge & Listen
The theory of evolution may ultimately prove inadequate to explain the development of intelligent life on Earth, but it definitely helps explain the rapid and fascinating development of intelligent music emanating from the Lafayette, Louisiana- based quartet Dire Wood. Ever since J Burton, the group's founder, lead singer, and main songwriter first conceived of making music as a way of life, his ideas have grown from the single-cell simplicity of a one-man acoustic club-haunting cover act to the full-bodied complexity of his current electricity powered creations. And, like the history of life according to Darwin, the history of music according to Dire Wood is full of false starts and inexplicable leaps forward, with only the fittest of Burton's many ideas finally managing to survive. Shortly after graduating from high school in the mid-90s and outgrowing his days as a fledgling performer whose main goal was impressing girls, Burton forged one of the most important missing links in the Dire Wood story by apprenticing as an assistant engineer under the Grammy-winning producer Tony Daigle at Maurice, Louisiana's famous Dockside Studios. It was there, while helping hone albums by the likes of B.B. King, Derek Trucks, and Junior Wells, that Burton observed first-hand the inseparability of form and content in the making of enduring musical art. Inspired to apply what he'd learned, he set off in 2001 for the alternative-musical Mecca of Athens, Georgia, where he played as often as he could and found the town's arts-friendly climate as invigorating as he'd hoped. But when the Big Bang he'd left home to experience failed to transpire, he began missing both the professionalism of his days at Dockside and, perhaps more importantly, the friendship of his former high-school music mate, the virtuoso electric guitarist Chad Viator. By 2004 Burton was back in Lafayette, writing in earnest for a project he would call Dire Wood, a band name he'd come up with as a teenager over a decade before. 'It's from a story record I had when I was a kid,'Burton recalls. 'It was about these kid-like creatures called grublets who would go out at night and steal things from the town, and to get back to their hideout they had to go through a section of the forest called Dire Wood. If you found yourself in Dire Wood just at sunrise, the trees would come to life and try to get at you. It's a frightening place, like the places in your head that you're afraid of and that you wouldn't want to see in the light. Now, through these songs, I'm exposing them.' Shortly before the first Dire Wood gig in the spring of 2005, Burton and Viator enlisted the drummer Frank Kincel (the Bluerunners, Modern Jazz Movement) and the bassist Ryan DeJean. Now, one stark demo EP and many increasingly dazzling performances later, the quartet has fused into an incendiary unit, their sound fueled by a con- fidence and cohesion that has transformed them from the quieter Garden State-soundtrack ambience of their origins into some- thing that at it's fiercest suggests a 21st-century version of the seminal New York City art-punk combo Television. The eye of their storm is Burton's songwriting, which, whether hushed and acoustic or frenzied and juiced, opens the rock-and- roll verities of verbal economy and melodic contour to the possi- bilities of growth, expansion, and other varieties of welcome change. If it really is the fittest that survive, Dire Wood should still be standing long after the page you're now holding has turned back into dust. From The Times of Acadiana 'Nearly any rock band says the same thing: 'What set's us apart is our influences.' With Dire Wood, the multi-inspirational line might actually make sense. From drummer Frank Kincel (the Bluerunners to Modern Jazz Movement) to guitarist Chad Viator (too many projects to name), and bassist Ryan Dejean (and banjo picking), their craft stretches from choppy ambiance to peppy yet earthy rock -- all for the back screen for the singer/songwriter lyrics and delivery of J Burton. Though only about a year into their Lafayette tenure, they are building their fan base on the sound reflected by Stand at the Edge and Listen. Dire Wood's mellow to quiet commotion fare leans towards something they best describe as progressive folk rock. Taking in such influences while still able to do their own thing, Dire Wood is so close to being so familiar, yet undeniably unique. While their name conjures up thoughts of something stale, stiff and petrified, the sound is anything but, bouncing through light and breezy moods, like the wind blown sounds of a carnival in spring.' N. Pittman From 'The Vermillion' There's something magical that happens when receiving promotional CDs at the Vermillion. It's kind of like when you add a butt-load of sugar, food coloring and other powdery stuff and you get cotton candy. Sometimes you might have too much food coloring and, although it looks pretty and everything, when you turn on the machine, it just turns into a big ball of mush. Other times, the recipe is just right. This band is kind of like cotton candy. It's intensely sweet and airy and it just makes you happy. Musician J Burton has altered his recipe several times before concocting Dire Wood, a Lafayette-based, progressive, indie-rock quartet that insists that everything, well, 'It's Alright.'According to the band's biography, 'J Burton has created and dismantled many projects in his rapid life; from techno to pop to bashy garage to theatrical blood and guts metal. But now it's all roots.' Dire Wood's debut album 'Stand at the Edge and Listen', likely an observation from the crowd at a Dire Wood show, is a refreshing celebration of what makes music good. The band works as a cohesive unit with one goal of entertaining, and they do it well, without competing with one another. Right from the start, 'It's Alright' the first track on the full-length album, sets the mood of relaxation coupled with imagination. Burton's ethereal vocals and dream-like guitar make up the base of Dire Wood's experimental and Southern, psychedelic sound. Lead guitarist Chad Viator, the second founding member of Dire Wood, leads listeners on a seemingly acidic musical adventure filled with fancy guitar frills. The rhythm section, composed of Ryan Dejean and Frank Kincel, keep's Dire Wood's mellow melodies bursting with life. Dejean even busts out a banjo every now and then. It's hard to dissect this album because everything flows so well from start to finish. There is a variation between each song, but a common thread pulls everything together so well. 'Stand at the Edge and Listen' makes you do just that-with a smile on your face. If it is good music you seek, Dire Wood shall provide it. Rachel Worthy.