I MOTHER EARTH – Dig (1993 Capitol)
Toronto rock fans were ecstatic when local heroes I Mother Earth signed with Capitol and went to record a debut album with Mike Clink (Guns N’ Roses). The goal was to take I Mother Earth’s long and meandering jams and turn them into recordable songs, and this was a success. With an intense mixture of metal, alternative, funk, world music and everything else, the debut album Dig was a head-turner. Loads of exotic percussion mixed with funky bass turned it into slow-burning hit. Eventually the record buying public pushed the album gold, with comparisons to Blind Melon and Jane’s Addiction.
The opening music, “The Mothers”, introduces a psychedelic bent that continues through the album. “Listen! To the Mothers!” yells lead howler Edwin, with echoey 60’s guitar behind him. This is all a fake-out: “Feel heavy!” are the first words of the next song, “Levitate”, heavy as plutonium plated bullets. The intense grinding riff and groove of “Levitate” are the perfect example of early I Mother Earth: heavy, rhythmic and intense. Edwin’s voice at the time was compared to Perry Farrell, but the two artists are easily distinguished.
The debut single “Rain Will Fall”, not that dissimilar from “Levitate”, focused on the intense heavy rock side of the band. The complex beats and out-there lyrics are still there, but there is no denying the forward momentum of “Rain Will Fall”. Either stay out of its way or get swept away; it’s your choice. Edwin whispers the lyrics until the full-lunged chorus. They really liked writing about themselves: “Four brothers make the Mothers, four brothers form the one!” (Drummer Christian Tanna was responsible for all lyrics.) But check out that funky wah-wah guitar, bass and percussion! It’s worth noting that guitarist Jagori Tanna played all the bass on the album at the time. Original bassist Franz had left and been replaced by Bruce Gordon, but that’s Jag playing all the funky shit on this CD. “Rain Will Fall” has a long open jam section that shows off this incredible playing.
Time to get trippy. “So Gently We Go” sounds like a 60’s Carlos Santana slow jam. It was one of four successful singles from the album, in edited form, since the album track is seven minutes. It’s a delightful journey of joyous vocals, psychedelic flower dancing and hippie jams. Things turn intense on “Not Quite Sonic”, the most accessible of the album’s tracks. Choppy guitars and percussion set the groove, then the bass drops in the low end. “The sights are embryonic, say what you want, I’m not quite sonic.” No idea what Christian is writing about, but Edwin sings it like he means it. You can understand how this became a bit of a hit when it was released as a single. It was great to hear music on the charts that really celebrated skilled playing and composition.
Super-fast paced funky guitar that sounds like Flea playing bass (jumping around joyfully naked) opens up “Production”, the most challenging of the songs. The sheer speed would knock most people for a loop, but I didn’t see that beat-poetry section coming! “Lost My America” is easier to swallow: Big and grand Cult-like choruses, backed by laid back dusky verses.
The centerpiece of the album is the epic and heavy as fuck “No One”. More than any, this one song combines all the band’s elements for maximum effectiveness. The groove will initiate spontaneous leg-stomping, impossible to stop once started. Edwin is on full intensity with his vocals. I had this song on an early preview sampler cassette, and I played it relentlessly during the summer of ’93, treating locals to it quite loudly through the car speakers. “No one leaves the caravan,” sings Edwin, but who would want to leave? By the time the song has expired seven minutes later, if you are not dripping with sweat, then you haven’t been listening properly.
The album begins to wind down from “No One” to the end. There are no more mindblowing songs, though plenty of jaw-dropping playing. “Undone” is the quietest song on the album, stripped down and punctuated by congas and Edwin’s raspy singing. Then “Basketball” is the funkiest of them all, blazingly fast, and hard to hold on to. The final two songs, “And the Experience”, and “The Universe in You” blend together in my mind. Is Dig perhaps overly long? Ear fatigue sets in. Your senses have been assaulted with a lot of notes and words to absorb and by this point, it’s overwhelming. (And there were two more songs dropped from the album, “Subterranean Wonderland” and “Love from Revolution”, the former of which later turned up on a compilation CD called Earth, Sky and Everything in Between.) “The Universe in You” ends the album on a bluesy Sabbath note, very epic indeed.
Dig is a mighty debut album indeed, but at well over an hour in length, perhaps they should have hung onto some of these tracks for B-sides.