Excavation time – The Big Diggity find their groove

Just about any way you slice it, a band’s second album tends to be better than its first. A follow-up is bound to be tighter, more coherent and focused, if for no other reason than the simple fact that the band members have spent more time playing together.

With its second full-length album, Louisville’s The Big Diggity seem to have found this imperative as part of their groove. The eight-piece funk and soul outfit is releasing Dig In, a 14-song soundtrack to a deeply personal dance party, this weekend.

More importantly, though, they’ve found a musical definition, a vision made of two distinct minds that can lay the funk for a soiree or rhapsodize about poignant inter-family relationships or the loss of a loved one. It’s a important flexibility, one that has developed with age.

“I think the first , we were kinda all new to each other in some ways, and this one we’ve had a lot of time to grow on each other and work with each other, and put out something that’s a little more about what the band is,” vocalist-saxophonist Mauriece Hamilton said during a phone interview last week.

For those who haven’t heard the record, the back-story is vital to grasping what Hamilton is saying. The Big Diggity started in 1998 as something of a family affair, with guitarist-bassist brothers Nathan and Sherman Buschmeyer and Brian Lambert trying to tap into the then-emerging jam band vibe. Their songs were long and winding, and guitar-solo-heavy, basically a fairly typical jam band, as Hamilton intimated. But they were ambitious to diversify their instrumentation, opening their doors to the wonderful world of brass.

The resulting mix was strange at first, with Hamilton and his brother, Mr. Theo — and Lamont Connor — bringing soulful vocal and even rap arrangements to the long, florid jams. Hamilton said the push-pull is what eventually forced the band into the sort of funk/neo-soul vibe it has today, but at a small price.

“It was kind of difficult in some respects because those guys hadn’t put their minds around what was forming yet,” said Hamilton, a familiar name for his work with lovesauce & soulbones and a.m. Sunday, to name only a couple. You can hear the tension on the band’s previous effort, but it seems to have all but disappeared here.

Also, as the band’s business manager, Hamilton has to balance the roles gracefully, something that’s only recently become a lot easier, as all the members finally seem to have turned to the same page. Whereas before, for instance, they’d play a set with as many instrumentals as songs with vocals, they now have a clearer idea of the audience they’re catering to. It is not the jam band crowd.

As Hamilton said, sounding something like a professor, “Once you introduce that vocal, you pretty much null everything after that.”

Hamilton’s guiding principle in music is fairly simple, something that he’s learned working clubs and audiences over the years: “Don’t let them try and define it for you,” he said.

The Big Diggity has preempted that this time around. Selah.

The album release show is a benefit for Kentucky Harvest and the Society for the Prevention of Aggressiveness and Violence Among Adolescents (SPAVA), a youth-oriented organization present in 13 Jefferson County public schools and a Louisville community center.

Rondo Sterling is tough to crack. The band’s self-titled EP, which came out last year, showcased its weird schizophrenia, moving from Radiohead-ish pop and rock to the more traditional current version of indie rock to some kind of hybrid jazz-soul that was maybe a little unsettling but ultimately worth the ride it takes from the mundane and utterly normal. So really, the band’s been a melting pot, and because of the consistency of singer Robert Scott’s vocals and the finely honed musicianship of the four players, the good kind.

Things are progressing nicely for the band, according to a recent update from Scott. They’re doing nominal touring, getting decent radio play and have been well received by some music scribes.
They’re playing the early show tomorrow at the Rudyard Kipling. You ought to go.

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