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guykThis month's forgotten gem is I Mother Earth's debut release 'Dig.' This is arguably the best hard rock fusion album released in the past 20 years and was wildly popular in Canada, but, despite critical acclaim, it did not achieve real recognition in the United States until years later. Well - let's not pull punches - this WAS the best hard rock album of the last 20 years, period. This first release went platinum early in Canada, but did not go platinum in the US until after IME released its second album. I Mother Earth (IME) was a band with a very 'modern' sound that blended the art and sounds of diverse groups into one seemingly incongruous package. Influences ranged from Santana to Rush; from King Crimson to Jane's Addiction; from Roxy Music to the Smashing Pumpkins and Primus. IME was a Canadian alternative rock band with strong ties, musically and personally, to a far more famous Canadian band - 'Rush.'

Over the few years that IME was together, eventually unraveling at the seems due to internal strife, Edwin (vocalist) leaving, and the record label abandoning the next proposed album release, IME achieved much success musically and artistically, including the 1994 Juno award for best hard rock album for 'Dig.' IME cracked the US Billboard Top 20 with singles releases from each of their first 2 albums. IME had a number one hit on the chart in Canada, achieved a 1997 nomination for best group of the year, won a best engineering award, and even won a best artwork award. IME has 6 top ten Canadian releases and a featured tune in xXx (a popular film starring Vin Diesel). Though there were other popularizations of their music in film and other media, US success really came with their second album and its featured tune 'One More Astronaut.' If you listen to rock music you have heard this tune even if you do not now recall it. Yet, despite fusing many musical and artistic styles, despite the awards and accolades, and despite multiple platinum albums in both the US and Canada, probably not one reader in 20 has even heard of IME. Obviously, this is very odd, but it may simply mean that their music survived the test of time, even in the fame of their name did not.

The band was formed when brothers Christian Tanna (drummer) and Jagori Tanna (guitar) met Edwin (vocals) at rehearsal space in Toronto. The band was thus functionally formed in 1991. Franz Masini joined in on bass, though he was shortly replaced. Even early on, IME was noted for jam sessions, poetry readings, and the fusion of visual arts into performances. 'Dig' was produced in LA by Guns N' Roses producer Mike Clink, and the band started touring immediately to promote this release. I personally saw the 'Dig' tour show live and it was musically remarkable. I've seen hundreds of live musical performances, from classical to metal, and this ranks up there musically with Return to Forever, the Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, King's X, Jonny Lang, and Jean Pierre Rampal. I was unsure what to expect from a live show as I believed that the sonic variety and unprecedented timing of this band could not be reproduced live - boy, was I wrong. They were not only spot on, but the live performance showed that each, all, and one - these were serious, serious musicians. Edwin is probably one of the very best rock vocalists of the past 20 years as he can add grit and gravel to his voice on demand, yet hit notes with such tonal clarity as to create the sonic equivalent of flowing water; he can power up to a scream or down to a whisper and still carry a melody. Bass lines are complex and driving, sometimes carrying the whole rhythm of a composition through hard driving riffs, and sometimes taking a backseat to the other instruments while never losing focus or presence. Drums were super tight, prevalent throughout each composition, and heavily influenced by Latin rhythms. Guitar sounds were as varied as the musical influences that guided IME's songwriting and performances, yet the guitar style is hard to characterize, but I'd say blend Mato Nanji (Indigenous) with John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) with Mick Ronson (Spiders From Mars & Ian Hunter).

IME was initially considered an alternative rock band, classified as non-grunge and on the heavy side. 'Dig' combined a traditional hard rock base with deep extended melodic jams, psychedelic acoustics and lyrics, funk rhythms, and Latin-based percussion lines. IME was musically a fusion of so many styles it is hard to comprehend that something as tight as 'Dig' could be the result. Beyond the above influences, the music has strong prog rock, funk, and metal influences, and even fused jazz stylings into its compositions (later albums even offered up blues influences).

The album opens with a two-stage prototypical IME composition - 'The Mothers' and 'Levitate.' The music is dramatic, aggressive, and very dynamic, both sonically as well as lyrically. The sound is ethereal and dreamlike, but the rhythm is heavily funk laden and the percussion is so varied and influential in the overall composition it borders on being Santana-like in style. While hard rock and dreamy etherealism seem like a contradiction, the next two songs on the release prove that this band broke both the rules, including your perception of the rules. 'Rain Will Fall' is a heavily Latin influenced jam that flat out rocks, and rocks hard. Again, this may seem a contradiction as Latin-based and hard rock/metal seem inconsistent; yet, yes, they did it and did it well. Following these openers is the smoky and watery sounds of a brilliant composition called 'So Gently We Fall' for which IME achieved much critical acclaim. It starts out slow, melodic, and dreamy, then powers up in major chord power progressions that can literally give you tingles up your spine. What a masterpiece!

Following this is 'Not Quite Sonic,' a fast paced mover with staccato guitars, power riffs, a watery fluidity to the sound, and trippy but meaningful lyrics teeming with angst or cynicism. 'Production' is the next tune and it features some great bass driven music, followed by 'Lost My America,' a slow driving power chord fueled piece with tasty jazz influences, change ups, and some melodic guitar sounds in its interludes. It should be noted that the seemingly unique guitar sounds on this release were often achieved as the guitar was picked on the neck, and not the body of the guitar, thus creating a smokier and more distant sound - but not a weaker sound. These guys just know how to power a change up and just jam.

'No One' is the next tune, and it is characterized by a return to power chords, clean guitar chops, and driving drums. 'Undone,' 'Basketball,' and 'And the Experience,' round out the next three tunes, and there is something there for everyone, whether fast paced music, a driving bass rhythm, deep introspective lyrics, or the trademarkable watery integrated sound that winds up and finally kicks out the jams (pun intended). 'The Music in You' rounds out the set and again starts slow and introspective - though it takes no time to power up at all. Most songs are characterized by precision timing, multiple change ups, a soaring liquid sound, and trademark jams peppered with syncopated percussion or bass and guitar chops.

In these days, when the cd format requires going from the 40 minute LP format to a 70 minute format, the result is often material and music that is the equivalent of filler. IME's debut is packed from cover to cover with great music. This is a hard-to-come-by commodity today, and other than a few bands and a few isolated releases, it is hard to find 70 minutes of pure art these days.

Thus, at the peak of critical and commercial success, IME surprised everyone - fans, critics, and even its own label - when it announced that Edwin would be leaving after the second album; the band citing musical differences, and Edwin citing a lack of an ability to contribute more heavily to the music and lyrics (think Mark Wahlberg as Chris 'Izzy' Cole in the movie 'Rock Star'). This was the public explanation, but I cannot guess at the private reasons or motivations. From there the band again had disputes with its label, and after a final tour, Edwin went solo and later released 3 albums. Despite Edwin's departure, the band released other music to commercial success and critical acclaim. IME's last live show was considered a literal 'swan song masterpiece' and lasted over 4 hours in Barrie, Ontario (November, 2003). I'd love a recording if anyone knows where to get one....

If you are not intrigued, then I suspect you are dead or near comatose. Go out and buy it and see for yourself. Again, and overall, it is on the heavy groove side, but what a masterpiece of composition and performance - literally - a sculpture for the ears.


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