New Music Review: Jim Dyar Band’s Magical Land


Magical Land The Jim Dyar Band

This morning I strolled into my expansive suite of offices here at anewscafe.com and, from the corner of my eye, caught a glimpse of a package nestled in my inbox. I moved aside the stepladder, mops and cans of bug spray so I could get to my mail (seems some fellow named ‘Custodian’ shares my office at night) and sure enough, there was what’s known in the trade as a ‘promotional pack’ waiting for me. It’s not uncommon for a group to send me their latest CD in hopes that I will deign to lend my ear, and so, being duly impressed, will write glowingly of it here on this website. After all, who better to pontificate on the merit of new music than the staff cartoonist? It’s a well know showbiz fact that if the cartoonist likes it you’ve got it made, baby. Next stop: Jimmy Kimmel. I bear this burden of “hitmaker” with grace and aplomb, if I do say so myself. Of course, sometimes I go without grace, and aplomb is usually busy, still, I wear the mantle as best I can.

With a yawn, I opened the padded envelope and discovered a brightly packaged CD entitled Magical Land by a local group calling themselves the Jim Dyar Band. Jim Dyar? Hmm, I know I’ve heard that name somewhere. According to the enclosed bio, Magical Land is their maiden recording, so I must have run across the name someplace else. Maybe on the police scanner. Whatever. My first impression is that the CD cover is nice. Very nice in fact. At least they hired a pretty good artist/photographer for the artwork, give ‘em props for that. Sometimes these local bands get one of their buddies to do the cover for them (cheap) and the results are usually pretty amateurish, so the Jim Dyar Band gets style points right out of the chute for the cover art.

So far, so good, but now for the real test. I pop the CD in the player and am greeted with the opening twang of some dirty guitar that leads into a slow, bluesy Dyar penned track called Hold On. I’m immediately struck by the overwhelming desire to put my feet up on the desk and lean back for a good listen. I keep time on the desktop with my pencil as an earnest-voice sings about our communal effort to just try and hold on in a crazed, and ever more dangerous world.

OK, I decide I like this guy. Don’t ask me why. Cartoonist’s intuition I suspect.

I check the liner notes to find out who the hell is channeling Al Kooper on the organ (or is it Benmont Tench?). Says here a fella by the name of Grant Rudolph is responsible for the sonic tapestry that holds this track together, hmmm, and Eric Day is putting down those nasty guitar licks. I’m impressed.

Next up, the title track jump starts my mood double-quick with a drum, guitar and fiddle bounce and, what’s this? Dyar is joined by a sweet-voiced Torri Pratt on a bluegrass inflected travelogue of the songwriter’s magical land. The song drives doggedly with a tasty guitar break from the marvelous Marvin Allen. Our ride ends with that ‘sad little town’ fading on the horizon we’re leavin’. I can’t help but think that Magical Land must be a real crowd-pleaser when heard live.

Two tracks in and I’ve made up my mind. This is good stuff. Jim Dyar, the band leader, has surrounded himself with some of the region’s best players (shit, that’s Scott Joss on fiddle and mandolin!) and, unlike some guys whose name is in front of the word ‘band’, he has the sense to step aside and let ‘em play. But, it should be noted that Jim Dyar, the songwriter, has provided some solid vehicles on which this group of stellar musicians can shine.

Dyar’s songs draw on a variety of influences, he has studied well the Dylans, the Haggards and the Neil Youngs (throw in a dash of Gram Parsons as well) but manages to brand his music with his own stamp. Though he has one foot in a world of plastic culture gone bad and one foot in the pristine rivers and backwoods of a timeless land, he still exudes an optimism that is quite engaging. He’s plugged in with the rest of us but he cheerfully shows that we can unplug if we want to, and kicking back in your chair with your feet on the desk and a smile on your face listening to the JDB is one way to do it. We may be heading to heck in a hand basket, but it’s sure a purty ride, ain’t it?

Magical Land is not just Jim Dyar’s rodeo. You can’t have a band like this and not let them step out front once in awhile. I’m especially taken with the singing of Torri Pratt. Her angelic tones, with a twist of whiskey in there, are featured throughout. But on the track Gone, which she co-wrote with Dyar and guitarist Allen, she takes the spotlight and doesn’t let it go until she’s finished with it. She can sing on my jukebox any old time.

Every track is arranged and played with what I would call, ‘loose precision’. I mean that in a good way. All the way through the JDB sound like a band. Even when they’re joined by guests like Rudolph and Joss they manage to scoot over and make a little room at the table and never sound strained. The drop-ins jump right into the mix and blend seamlessly with the core group. The veteran sideman Joss, of course, is spectacular on the fiddle and electric mandolin. The fact Dyar schmoozed him into making an appearance is testament to the affability of the bandleader, and to his impeccable taste in players. I would be remiss if I didn’t single out the picking of Day and Allen. Marvin is a real treasure and his playing is so soulful it hurts. The guitar lines through all ten tracks on Magical Land really punch the music up a couple of notches, and it certainly wouldn’t be the pleasant trip it is without the expert string bending.

On a more technical note, I think the sound and overall mix of the album is damn good. You never know what you’re going to get in local studios but Magical Land sounds first rate. I’m listening to the MP3 version right now and it holds up pretty good. My compliments to the chefs.

It’s come to my attention that the Jim Dyar Band will be opening for Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women at the Cascade Theatre Thursday night. If their CD is available for sale in the lobby at intermission, do yourself a solid and pick up a copy. After all, I’m a cartoonist, why would I lie?


You may purchase the Jim Dyar Band’s Magical Land by clicking here.


Author’s note: There now, Jim. That wasn’t so bad was it? I called it as I saw it. I don’t think anyone will catch on to the incestuous nature of one anewscafe.com staffer reviewing the work of another anewscafe.com staffer, do you?

But, honestly, now I can’t wait ‘til Brewer’s new book comes out. Books get reviewed too. Hehehe.


Correction: In the original posting I had misidentified keyboardist, Grant Rudolph. I humbly apologize for my error. Mr. Rudolph’s playing deserves better reporting.



Phil Fountain

Phil Fountain is a cartoonist and writer based in the far reaches of Northern Californey.

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