Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband – Dream Big (2005)
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“PostHeeHawFunkadelicHipHopNewGrass.” That’s the type of music Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband play, at least according to them; this description, though, makes it seem like the music in question has an awful lot going on. The truth is more mundane: Though one could certainly argue that the band incorporates all of these elements (except funk — they are from Utah, after all), they’re watered down and refined. The result is a pleasant cross between, say, The Clumsy Lovers and Nickel Creek, minus the attractive quirkiness of either outfit. Shupe & the Rubberband’s self-description also leaves out CCM (as in Christian contemporary music), the dreaded acronym that usually signals either Earnestness and Big Messages or treacly sentimentality (or both). This isn’t so bad, though. I suspect this may have something to do with Dream Big being their major-label debut, but insofar as these songs are CCM at all, they fall on the inoffensively (if relentlessly) positive end of the spectrum.
There aren’t any clunkers here, though the album does lead off with its strongest one-two punch: The tongue-in-cheek “Banjo Boy” (download) has been appearing on Shupe albums and setlists since at least 1999, and makes for a perfect introduction to mainstream audiences, and “Even Superman” (download) should be a big hit on AAA stations if Capitol does even a halfway decent job of promoting the album.
Aside from those AAA stations, though, it’s hard to see much of an audience for this music. It isn’t “neo” enough to appeal to folksy hipsters, and isn’t “trad” enough to appeal to people who bought the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack and meant it. For newgrass, in other words, it’s suspiciously light on anything new or grass. Whether this is a temporary problem or something they’ve struggled with all along, I’m not qualified to say — but either way, it doesn’t make for an especially memorable listening experience.