I should probably start by giving you an idea about where this album falls among the rest of Dead Soul Tribe. A Murder of Crows was the first of three consecutive albums that represent the best Dead Soul Tribe has to offer. A Murder of Crows shines in offering the best track transition and most immediately memorable moments spread throughout the album. January Tree shines in flow and likely the best lyrics, and is probably the most …beautiful? …of the albums, although beauty is a terrible descriptor seeing as it is very dark. The Dead Word is then the peak of the Dead Soul Tribe Sound; they really hit a stride with the tribal drumbeat mixed with music here. All three are very similar sounding, as Devon Graves ( a.k.a. Buddy Lackey) stated; he had to move on after three albums like that. No matter if you like what was going on, those three albums were it, staying put was just being stuck musically.
A Murder of Crows is definitely better than The Dead Word. In fact, A Murder of Crows > The Dead Word > Lullaby for the Devil > S/t is all but set in stone for me. January Tree, though, I can never decide. No question it is one of the top three, but other than that my opinion never settles, which is a large part of why I am choosing this one out of the three. Something about it sets it apart.
The January Tree
I usually say Dead Soul Tribe was fully Devon Graves band? That’s only mostly true, and especially for January Tree one other member had a measure of influence, he was Graves’s main sounding board for creating the music, Adel Moustafa. Moustafa was the guy Graves wrote stuff with, and would ask suggestions for drum beats, etc. which is really integral to the Dead Soul Tribe sound. He’s the highlight underneath everything written by Graves, all those tribal drumbeats that give so much life to the band. January Tree saw him with the most influence he probably had on any album. Maybe it’s because almost everything on these albums is performed by Graves, everyone else is mostly just live members, except Moustafa. I think it’s more likely he’s just nuts on drums and Graves appreciated that.
January Tree marks a change in the drums, they get much more aggressive stylistically, the tribal sound is far more present here than in A Murder of Crows. Check out the stretch of Wings of Faith through Waiting for an Answer to hear Moustafa really go happy. It’s there in other places, but that stretch really forms the heart of the album. The first 4-5 tracks have some of the best songs, and get everything going with the focus on Graves putting that haunting vocal feeling over all the angst-ed up instrumentation.
Thematically, January Tree represents how the life of the whole is dependent on the small entities, namely the leaves. The tone of the album is targeted at what the tree faces in the heart of winter, as applied to society. No, this album is not happy.
If I broke it down by sections…
Tracks 1-5: Honestly, some of the highlights are in here, but it isn’t as catchy as A Murder of Crows. Why? in particular anchors this section. This is the most straightforward part of the album, if I had to guess this is why the album fluctuates a lot for me. Sometimes I’m feeling this part and sometimes not. This is where if I’m in a lyric state of mind I find things a lot more interesting. I think it’s very evident he put a lot of thought into writing this album, and did a good job of doing so without being overbearing or impossible to understand.
Tracks 6-8: As said, the tribal groove focused section of the album. Really the heart of matters for the music, here. By this point the album is always clicking for me. The Dead Word took this section to heart and made it prominent throughout.