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Music Preview: Rested Root

Pittsburgh's biggest band is ready to get the 'Party' started again

Friday, April 05, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

First Jenn Wertz took him to the bar and got him buzzed because, she says, "When you're doing the lead vocal track, it's important to get outside of your head."

 
 
Rusted Root

WHERE: This is about to embark on a six-week tour of the East and Midwest. The only area performance for now is at Henry Memorial Gym at Washington & Jefferson College, Washington County with The Clarks.

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow

WEB SITE: www.rustedroot.com

TICKETS: $20; 724-223-6013.

   
 

And then Rusted Root frontman Michael Glabicki, working in a studio overlooking the ocean in northern California, went in and sang the hell out of what would become the title track and first single of the band's long-awaited comeback record.

"After I sang that song," Glabicki says, "I felt like I could float out of the studio, that there was lifetimes of stuff that I got off my chest. I just put down the microphone and walked out. I knew that was the one, I didn't even need to listen to it."

"Welcome to My Party" could be Rusted Root's most infectious piece of pop music. The jangling acoustic guitar pulls you in and the bass and synthesizer warm it up for Glabicki's somber opening of "It ain't me you were looking for" -- they didn't realize the Dylan reference -- and then "you stood upon it and then you walked away from the door," building to a subtle harmony with the girls, a perfect drum tease by Jim Donovan and then, pow, a gorgeously bittersweet chorus of "Welcome to my party for ya/welcome to my party for ya." It breaks into one of those exotic Middle Eastern spirals that's just long enough and then a wail like Glabicki's never released before, rising with the female voices straight into radio heaven.

It's Rusted Root's best single since it busted out nationally in 1994 with "Send Me On My Way," a song that's still taking on a life of its own, currently with the prehistoric characters in the movie "Ice Age."

After the platinum success of "When I Woke," Rusted Root got lesser returns on its subsequent Mercury releases "Remember" and "Rusted Root," while still building a tribe of fans nationally through its euphoric live shows.

"There's a little bit of re-education that needs to happen with us," Glabicki says, "that we're not a jam band, we're a serious recording band and we've got singles and radio potential."

"If we get on the radio," he adds, "it's over and done. We're going to hit it huge."

"Welcome to My Party" happened to be the first song Glabicki wrote when the band, collapsing under the weight of a decade of personal tensions, announced its "extended hiatus" in the fall of 1999. Glabicki was thinking his next songs would be part of a solo project.

"When I first wrote ['Welcome to My Party']," Glabicki says, "it was like, 'Oooo, that sounds like a single' and that scared me a little bit, 'cause I don't usually do that kind of thing. But as I kept playing it, I thought you gotta do it, because it's still an honest song and definitely very real emotionally."

The record company, Island, would tell him it was "valued real estate."

But rather than turning up on a Glabicki solo record, it's part of this glowing reunion of Pittsburgh's most unlikely and most successful rock band, nearly two years after members came together again for a Midwife Center benefit.

Glabicki agrees that not only is the album "Welcome to My Party," produced by Bill Bottrell (who cut Root's debut), a departure, but also "every song's a departure" from the next one.

It's the product of everyone going off and refreshing themselves musically, talking out their issues and then coming back to the groove.

"I think everybody across the board felt more a part of the creative process than ever before," Wertz says, joking that she didn't even get "mixed out" on this one.

Wertz, who had been banished from the Root for five years, came in with "Weave," a funk raveup with a Macy Gray feel, though she claims to be much more steeped in the Stones. Glabicki's other vocal sidekick, Liz Berlin, takes the lead on the breezy Afro-pop flavored "Too Much." Bassist Patrick Norman speaks up on behalf of the soul elements, including "Why Cry" and the Funkadelic-style opener "Union 7." And drummer Donovan pitches Rusted Root to the rave kids with the propulsive techno track "People of My Village."

"Jim did a lot of work teaching drums and meditation CDs," Glabicki says, "and he came back with a world of knowledge about computers and different types of grooves. I heard one of them and wanted to do something with it, so he brought it back to the studio and I spent the whole night cranking it up through the sound system. And then he put it on the computer and worked for months on that."

"People of My Village" and "Union 7" are among the songs that put the party in "Welcome to My Party," a record that also finds Rusted Root making a further break from its original granola hippie roots for something with more freewheeling soul and sexual energy.

Clearly, the old Rusted Root would not have come out with another potential single called "Women Got My Money," a song about strippers or bad relationships, or both.

"We just evolved," Wertz says. "Your spiritual and political beliefs when you're young in your 20s are really strong and huge, and then you integrate them into your life. And we've pretty much done that. I think we're living, instead of just talking about things."

Glabicki says, "Being like 19 when I started the band, I took it pretty seriously. I was very dogmatic about how I would go about being an artist and how to live. Now, during my year and a half off, I went out and experienced the world a little bit."

Glabicki, who decided back in 1995 that he couldn't work with Wertz, ended up renewing his friendship with her over the past few years, and leading up to the recording, Wertz says, they were throwing themselves into "bizarre social circumstances" like raves, after-hours clubs and strip bars just to explore. They were also seeing bands they normally wouldn't see.

Wertz says it's made Glabicki more friendly and accessible, while expanding his musical palate. "He was such an eclectic guy before," she says. "Everything that came out of him was from a different country, a different part of the world. And he even didn't try that. Now, he's accessing something more ... I don't know how to put it ... classic sounding. But it's never going to sound ordinary coming out of Rusted Root."

Not when Glabicki and the rest of Root continue to indulge some of their more otherworldly or spiritual tendencies. Although Glabicki might be singing about strippers in one place or raving in another, on a tender ballad like "Blue Diamonds" -- where he promises "I found you now/and forever/I won't waste this breath" -- he's taking fans deep into his psyche.

"When I was 2 1/2," he explains, "I was run over by a car, sort of a hit-and-run thing. But in my unconsciousness I met this sort of celestial being. She said she would stick by my side if I came back, woke up. At different points in my life, I've kind of forgotten about her. Recently, I've intimately gotten back in touch with her and turned myself around with her. ['Diamonds'] is a very potent song and it's a good reminder to play it each night."

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