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Great songs played well

By Mango Jam

Shanachie Records: 1998

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This review first appeared in the July 11, 1998 edition of the American Reporter.

For those who worry that the music world is increasingly ruled by fadism, Mango Jam provides a nice antidote. Anchored in the blues and traditional country with a rock attitude thrown in, Mango Jam is somewhere between the Rolling Stones and the Jayhawks, inhabiting the same turf as the Beat Farmers and Little Feat.

The quintet out of Minneapolis (as were the Jayhawks) is a bit of a throwback to the '60s and '70s in that all five are outstanding musicians. They can flat-out play, and there's a simple joy of making music with your friends that comes through their latest recording, "Preserves" – kind of like 20 and 30 years ago, when even the big stars like Neil Young or Steve Miller would sit in on their friends' albums just to for the pleasure of the gig.

Which is fine and dandy, but unless you were in the Grateful Dead you need well-written songs to go with your love of playing. Which Mango Jam has in abundance on their second album.

In a just world, all twelve songs on "Preserves" would be on the radio. They range from the brooding "Far Away Now" to the jazzy and Randy Newmanesque "That's Life," through the darkly sardonic "Pretty Little Town" and "Kalamazoo," and the funk of "Northern Lights" to the uptempo rocker "My Best Friend." (And if you let the disc keep spinning after the last song has apparently ended, after about five minutes an uncredited thirteenth song plays out, followed by a twisted outtake about Gary, Ind.) It's a wonderful collection of well-crafted pop songs that would be at home in the hands of any capable band of real musicians.

But in the hands of Mango Jam – or, rather, in the voices of singers Jason Bush (who wrote most of the lyrics) and Jon Herchert – the songs achieve a certain timelessness.

According to the band's Web site, their previous CD was more world beat than roots, so there won't be any recommendation on their earlier stuff.

This latest effort, though, is the goods. Given the reality of the music business, you're not likely to hear anything from it on the radio. Do yourself a favor, though – next time you're looking for something new to take a chance on, check out "Preserves."