Ask the members of Mumbo Gumbo what they call the music they've been developing for 13 years, and you're likely to get blank stares, confusion, and eventually, laughter.
The fact is, they have no idea what to call it. But their growing grass-roots legion of fans at music festivals from the Bay area to the Sierra to Reno and even as far as the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas don't hesitate: It's Gumbo!
As their name implies, there's New Orleans' second line and rhythm and blues, sure. But also, there's driving rockabilly and country waltzes. Singer/songwriter-style ballads. Ass-shaking cumbias. Edgy blues rock. Afro-Cuban trance singalongs. Conga-line-inspiring whachamacallits . Mutant gypsy folk.
After a short time of that hopelessly inadequate genre-dropping, you'll understand their laughter. And one listen to "Seven" the seven-piece band's sixth compact disc, and you'll also understand the passion this band is inspiring in a remarkably devoted, steadily-growing audience.
Despite their roots in any musical style you might care to name - did we mention "psychedelic voodoo mambo"? - the group's increasing stature is rooted in two distinctive traditions that are as old as the rock era itself: the journeyman coverband roadwork ethic that produced the Beatles and the freeform dance party lifestyle that produced the Grateful Dead.
Mumbo Gumbo sounds like neither - hey, MG sounds like no one else - but they have developed their musical craft the way few new bands are doing these days, through hard musical work, gig by gig, year by year. And they have developed a connection with their audience that comes from their over-arching desire to make sure that they leave their audiences dancing and smiling, a radical notion in the ego-centered, my-way-or-the-highway attitude of many contemporary performers.
At the same time, Gumbo is no mere party machine. It is fronted by two remarkable singer songwriters, Chris Webster and Tracy Walton, whose songs are insightful, tuneful, personal, and most importantly, build on the bond they've established with their audience. In writing about their own lives and experiences and reactions to this "big life," Webster and Walton are finding, much to their delight, that they are doing the same for their listeners.
With "Seven" and a host of festival and concert gigs all around the Western U.S., the members of Mumbo Gumbo are realizing just how big and coherent their nilly-willy, kitchen-sink vision - which they still can't quite describe - has become in the American Melting Pot of the new millenium.
They are also delighted and pleased to be discovering how ready a battered but still willing audience is to hear their music. The big smiles they inspire are growing wider - and more widespread - by the week.
Spread the word! Or, at least, try to put it into some.