Over the past week or so I rediscovered the album La Musica Negra by the band Verbena, a group that you probably missed unless you were one of those people who couldn’t miss an episode of MTV’s 120 Minutes viewers back in the day. For me the band burst onto the scene with their 1999 album Into The Pink which was most notable at the time for being produced by Dave Grohl, an artist who I was rather obsessed with at that time for his work with Nirvana and Foo Fighters. I gave Verbena a chance and Into The Pink was a great rock album for me at that point in my life. I was just discovering and understanding 3 piece rock bands and this was the perfect combination of that sound in a modern alternative rock setting. I put Verbena on my list of bands to pay attention to and in those very early internet days I did my best to follow them. (PS: their debut Souls For Sale came out in 1997 and for some reason I completely missed that album.)
2003 saw the release of the band’s third and so far final release La Musica Negra. At that point I lost my connection with the band (despite one time Weezer bassist Mikey Sharp briefly joining their ranks for a little bit) but I was excited to hear the album when I heard the first single, the catchy, slightly jangly, and full on rockin’ “Way Out West”. From the chiming looped guitars at the beginning to the full on rock the band brought (with new bassist Nick Daviston) throughout the whole song I was instantly hooked. I got La Musica Negra on the day it was released and it quickly became one of those “ooooh they’re onto something here” albums.
The album is a delight to listen to from front to back. The sheer rock power never lets up from the first track and even manages to keep it going but in a totally different but equally as powerful way on the slower songs. Scott Bondy’s (these days known as A.A. Bondy) songwriting is one of the major highlights of this album. It was clear on Into The Pink that he had great songwriting skills but it is on this album where they are fully out there. The tracks are full of heart & soul. While they’re not going all out there on chord progressions and melodies and reinventing music with those elements what Bondy is doing is taking what has already been established and putting his very unique and very good touch on it. Bondy’s a born Southerner and elements of Southern rock and that twang come into his music. For someone like me who has avoided all kinds of Southern rock his whole life it’s nice to finally embrace something that embraces that idea. But La Musica Negra isn’t southern rock…it just hints at it while putting it’s own unique stamp on the music. It’s a really impressive and very listenable combo of some great things. Bondy is a great songwriter and his work in Verbena is at its highest here. The biggest song for me is “All The Saints”, a soaring mid tempo rock song featuring absolutely perfect songwriting topped off with a performance that may be the band’s best. It is PERFECT.
I’m also equally impressed by the drumming on this album from Verbena’s only drummer Les Nuby. It hits hard, it sounds great, and it drives these amazing songs forward. Combining his drum work on this album with Bondy’s stellar songwriting takes the songs to a new level. It works and I can’t stop listening to it and air drumming along as I walk around my town every night.
La Musica Negra was the band’s final album. A huge part of me hopes that they’ll get back together and do something again, but I think that moment has passed. Nuby has got his own studio and makes great music with the band Vulture Whale and Bondy is out on his own and deep into his solo career. I don’t know what happened to their former bassists. Both Nuby and Bondy’s post Verbena stuff is great and I highly recommend you check it out.