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Former jam band Stray Suns find their alt-rock groove 

click to enlarge Stray Suns go with the flow toward a tighter new sound. - KIRSTEN AALAND
  • Kirsten Aaland
  • Stray Suns go with the flow toward a tighter new sound.
From opening for Robert Randolph & The Family Band at the Black Sheep to their upcoming CD release show at Oskar Blues, Stray Suns are beginning to make their presence felt on the local music scene. Jake Oakey and his band’s current lineup — Addison Slone on guitar, Tim Miller on bass and Joe Della Penna on drums — have also changed their sound over the past two years, turning away from what the frontman describes as “pseudo jam band” improvisations toward a more succinct alternative funk-rock approach. As proof, tracks on their new Until Further Notice album run from four to six minutes, an evolution that’s also reflected in live shows.

“We tightened the songs up, but I don’t think that was ever intentional,” says singer-guitarist Oakey, who also writes most of the band’s songs and all of their lyrics. “I think it’s just the way that the music feels and flows when we’re on the stage. It’s like, ‘This seems like it’d be a good place to stop, so let’s stop.’”

Oakey’s earlier jam-band inclinations date back to his stint in The Charlie Milo Trio. A fledgling guitarist at the time, he takes full blame for what he feels was one of the worst incarnations of the experimental jazz-funk bassist’s ever-shifting lineup. And while Milo clearly knows how to make overtly complex arrangements work in a live setting, Oakey wasn’t prepared to go there.
“We don’t want people to come out and go, ‘Oh, these guys are just trying to stroke their egos,’” he explains. “If we’re going to do something in an odd time signature, we want people to try and dance to it. There’s nothing funnier than seeing someone trying to dance to a song that’s in 5/6 time.”

On Until Further Notice, Stray Suns segue from upbeat material like the opening “Drink, Dance, Funk” to more brooding, Pearl Jam-style fare like “Not a Ghost,” which is anchored by its angst-driven chorus, “Don’t you ever blame this hell on me.”

“I’ve always liked the Counting Crows style of writing,” says Oakey. “They take these kind of really happy-sounding tunes and put dark lyrics behind them.”

And then there are those traces of Eddie Vedder’s gruffly theatrical vocal style, which Oakey insists are unintentional. “Yeah, I get that comparison a lot,” he admits. “I didn’t really listen to any Pearl Jam until I was 20 or 21 years old, when our band first started and our original drummer introduced me to their music. After that, I went on this binge, listening to everything they had. And then, all of a sudden, I heard my voice really starting to move in that direction.”

While his band’s sound may continue to evolve, Oakey says Until Further Notice accomplishes what he’s set out to do. “I told the guys at the beginning of our musical relationship, ‘Look, if nothing else — if this doesn’t go anywhere — I want to put out one album that is exactly the way I want it to sound, that I’m proud of, and that I like listening to in my car.’ That’s ultimately the only goal I’ve had for this band.”

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