It's been two dozen years since Rusted Root first formed, but the band is just as full of vitality as ever. For frontman Michael Glabicki, the band's seventh album, The Movement, is something of a musical rebirth. Fortunately, the neo-hippie, world-folk act's new disc has found a special place in the hearts of diehards.
"There's a newborn life to the live show because of it, and just the way the new music is combining with the old music, it's creating this whole new thing now — for both us and the fans," Glabicki says.
The Pittsburgh sextet is perhaps best known for their hit "Send Me on My Way," a tune which has achieved a certain pop-culture ubiquity thanks to its use in such films as Ice Age and Matilda. Glabicki, for one, is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "There are some songs that connect in such a way that it's this moment, and it continues to be a moment. We get a lot of young kids who come in and they just love the song," he says. "It has a sort of life of its own. I just have to sit back and watch it grow."
After enjoying a major label run through the '90s, Glabicki and company checked out for most of the 2000s releasing two albums (2002's unsuccessful pop crossover Welcome to My Party and 2009's Stereo Rodeo). Glabicki took time off to record, release, and tour in support of a solo disc, 2004's Uprooted, and when Rusted Root returned to the studio, it was with renewed focus.
The Movement's greater songcraft and keenly pruned arrangements make Stereo Rodeo seem like a pace lap. They financed the album with a crowd-funding campaign through their website, offering fans unique access to the band — like recording studio access — in exchange for their donations. Not surprisingly, the relaxed, easy-going spirit informed the entire process.
"We had fans come into the studio on a day of recording and do some handclaps and screams on the record. That was a lot of fun, and it turned out really good for us for the purpose of making the record, creatively getting us out of our routine there and making us not be so isolated," Glabicki says.
At times The Movement feels like a return to Rusted Roots' mid-'90s heyday, highlighted by a pair of exceptionally catchy tracks at the album's center, "Fossil Man" and "Fortunate Freaks." The former's a billowy art-pop space anthem with a banjo and a trace of Bowie; the latter's a punchy new wave/power-pop song pitched somewhere between the Cars and Graham Parker but with a roots-soul undercurrent. Each track has a lot going on, but like much of the album, the melodies are strong enough that the exceptional craft and nuance of the arrangements are but the cherry on top.
"It wasn't about going way out and experimenting. It wasn't about getting all uptight about getting a radio hit," Glabicki explains. "It wasn't about anything but kicking back and having a good time. What ended up happening is that the experimentation on the record seemed to be more fitting to the album, and we ended up creating a complete album with a strong thread running through it. Not that the other albums didn't have threads, but this one was really strong."
A big key to that is balance. Over the years the guys in Rusted Root have learned when to play, which is at times an even more vexing problem than what to play. No matter how talented the musicians, if they're all playing intricate showy parts at once, the song itself will topple over. It's never easy to rein in yourself or your mates, but Rusted Root really seems to have found that equilibrium thanks in part to Glabicki's solo efforts.
"What was really good for me was going out and doing acoustic solo performances for a few years and really learning those dynamics that were unable to be heard with Rusted Root," he says. "When I returned, what happened was the stronger, more intense parts of Rusted Root that we'd been doing for years actually sounded way more intense when you bring it down in the verse, then re-enter and you play off those dynamics."