Hearing Aide: Formula 5 ‘All Points North’

On All Points North, the new album from Albany jam-rockers Formula 5, ‘North’ is not a physical direction, but a mental state. North is up, and up is good.

And so we begin with a happy-go-lucky blast of B3 on album-opener “Come Along.” Even a dark turn toward a minor key on the following “Sad Bed” quickly escapes to a frenetic organ and guitar groove that mostly bobs and floats above the surface.

There are plenty of extended instrumental moments to satisfy fans of the band’s penchant for live improvisation. “Trout Waters Pt I & II” is a two-part instrumental that begins rocking in a Widespread Panic sort of way, climaxes midway with some surprisingly nifty guitar howls, then finishes off with a funk that attempts to match the Headhunters in it’s depth and length but perhaps wanders on too long. “Excalibur” twists and turns in almost disorienting fashion, but always settles back to North. The highlight of the instrumental gymnastics comes in “Q & A,” a near twelve minute multi-section workout that hits all the sweet spots. Early moments borrow elements from Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, piano and guitar intermingle in a light and airy mid-section before it all builds to a triumphant finish.

Though, the best moments on All Points North, Formula 5’s third studio recording, come in the shorter, song-centric tracks. In the jam band world, this is remarkable and refreshing. A sign of maturation and of great things to come for this young band. There’s the feel-good blues of “It Goes…” and the Southern-rock-meets-soul anthem “The Birch Tree.” Strongest of all is the slinky groover, “Do Tell.” Vocals, guitar, keys, horns and cymbal-washed rhythms softly smudge together eliciting the moment where an early morning Sesame Street montage and a late night smokey jazz lounge meet halfway at a time that is either too late or too early. The set finishes strongly with “Figure Out a Feeling,” which finds a happy medium between the band’s songwriting and desire to stretch the limits.

Key tracks: Do Tell, Q & A, Sad Bed

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