Before disbanding in 1993, bombastic alt-rock quartet Slow was sitting high atop the local music scene, having built an impressive fan base behind a timely, heavy-hitting grunge attack -- a sound that was spotlighted during key opening slots for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Even major labels like Sony and Atlantic came calling for the band's sludgy services. But all was not well within the camp, and lead singer David Minshew pulled out just a few weeks before they were supposed to fly to New York and showcase for Atlantic.
"It was an ugly departure," states Minshew, recalling Slow's sudden halt. "I just had a lot of personal problems, some of them internal with the band and some of them outside. ... I was unhappy with the direction of some of the music. ... I had a horrible attitude, I didn't want to be there. ... It would have been a real downfall for me if I had continued at that point."
Minshew stopped performing for nearly four years after the split, but he rebounded in 1997, forming the mesmerizingly sedate post-goth outfit Blue Eyes, which later morphed into Mississippi, his current project. The remaining members of Slow -- drummer Chris Nobling, guitarist Derek Baker and bassist Nik Barth -- reformed as Darling in 1998, recruiting vocalist Rex Russell for a kinder, gentler approach. But fate is funny sometimes. When Darling called it quits in October of this year, it opened the door for Baker to reunite with Minshew. Mississippi was looking for a second guitar player, and, well ...
"They had the songs together. I just came in and added a little flavor to it," says Baker, who debuts with Mississippi Christmas Day at Barbarella. (They play out again, Thursday, Dec. 30, at Sapphire.) "This band -- it's all about the vibe. It is raw and black, in a way. It has no boundaries. With Darling I kind of felt like I had strayed from my roots as a player -- I didn't realize it until after I started to play with these guys."
Songs like the dramatic scream-fit "Almost Gone" and the chilling "Honey Bitch" (performed by Blue Eyes at the 1998 Orlando Music Awards) build into tidal waves of swirling guitars and haunting cellos before climaxing with big rock finishes, ever-punctuated by Minshew's throaty snarl.
Mississippi -- rounded out by bassist Mark Williams (ex-Lyme), drummer Bobby Pino and guitarist Richard Bird -- might incorporate Slow's plodding rhythms and heavy guitars, but the new project goes much farther in establishing atmospheres and textures instead of simply copping Soundgarden's sonic doom.
For his new outfit, Minshew enlisted former Blue Eyes cellist Melena Grimes, giving the band a highly uncommon ingredient in today's heavy-music climate. The cello and the double dose of guitar give Mississippi many more options and some much-needed power.
As Minshew put it, Mississippi "has a lot of melody -- and dynamics."