What Happened to the La Las
Sugar Hill Records

It has always been a struggle for bands known for exploratory, unpredictable live shows to capture some of that intangible magic on studio recordings. Generally, these albums walk the line between lackluster, watered-down versions of road-worn tunes and a thrown-together collection of unknown, hit-or-miss songs. This isn’t the case with moe. On their new album, What Happened to the La Las, the band balances the accessibility of sing-along choruses with fierce guitar playing from Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey.

Unlike the prog-rock of, say, Umphrey’s McGee or the bluegrass-with-drums approach of Leftover Salmon, moe. is deeply rooted in classic rock, big guitars, and an improvisational spirit that keeps them ahead of the pack of modern (post-Phish) jam bands. The album opens with one of the band’s older compositions, “The Bones of Lazarus,” which for years was known as simply “Lazarus” before a reworking took place in the studio. The Edge-like opening riff sets the stage for the group’s combination of quirky lyrics, twisted Thin Lizzyesque guitar lines, and anthemic choruses.

In keeping with their song-focused ethos, most of the tracks here come in at radio-friendly lengths. The one exception is the eight-minute “Downward Facing Dog,” a Schnier-penned tune that combines the groove and punch of AC/DC with a country-rock flair. Throughout the album, both Garvey and Schnier take turns in the spotlight. Their guitar tones range from the jangly, twang-filled “Rainshine” to the wah-drenched, psychedelic-punk stylings of “Paper Dragon.”

For most jam bands, studio albums serve merely as filler to hold fans over between tours, but with What Happened to the La Las, moe. continues its song-first mantra and makes one of the most successful and tuneful albums of its career. —Jason Shadrick

Must-hear track: “The Bones of Lazarus”