Agents of Good Roots will play at Dartmouth Sunday

by Ben Mandelker | 11/13/98 6:00am

On Sunday night, the Agents of Good Roots, an up-and-coming musical act from Richmond, Va., will play at Dartmouth in a Programming Board concert. The band will be opening up for Blues Traveler at Leede Arena and will perform several songs off its critically appraised major-label debut album, "One By One."

Since the release of "One By One" earlier this year, the band has garnered several critical raves. Entertainment Weekly described the album as a "world of many colors" and the New York Post called it an "excellent debut." Several reviews awarded the album four stars, with the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and the Reuters International News Service all describing the album as "striking."

The San Francisco Chronicle also stated that "One By One" is "a delightful discovery and establishes Agents of Good Roots as a confident, fully formed group that merits abundant attention." In addition, Billboard Magazine, a respected trade publication, advised that "this [the album] is one that top 40 programmers looking to smarten up their playlists should seriously consider."

While Agents is just starting to make a major name for itself, the band has been touring for several years. "We've been around since about '93," said drummer and lead vocalist Brian Jones in an interview with The Dartmouth. "We were all in school. We were just putting together songs."

Jones, a former student at the University of Richmond, had gone to school with the brother of guitarist and vocalist Andrew Winn, and through that link they began playing together. Winn then brought in his high school friend, Stewart Myers, a student at William and Mary, to play bass for the band. In 1995, after going through a series of saxophonists, the band brought in J.C. Kuhl to fill the position.

"J.C. was the first guy who really fit well," Jones explained. "It was a little more cohesive. Stylistically it was a very good fit. The other guys weren't really working out."

The Agents then started moving out of the Richmond region to play more clubs along the East coast and then eventually the nation. "We bought a van and started travelling around the country ... We're still doing clubs. We just played a fraternity," Jones said.

Soon the band was playing over 200 shows a year which all added to a musical cohesion of sorts. "We've toured all the way across the country, straight through California and Seattle, almost every state -- except Montana. You get tighter as a band. You can kind of tell [how the music becomes more focused]. You've played with this person. You get more in tune with the other musicians. The sound gets focused. You can always tell it is one of our tunes."

Nevertheless, while the band's musical sound has become more focused, the album still covers a wide variety of styles. "We're kind of a moody band, and on this record, with three vocalists and so many styles, it lends itself well to various moods."

One of the vocalists, Winn, adds his own unique sound to his songs. When he was fourteen, Winn had a serious skiing accident when he crashed into a lift stanchion in mid-air, crushing his larynx with his own fist on impact. Luckily, his voice box was surgically reincarnated, and although it is not the same as it had been, his voice does have a unique, raspy quality.

The choice for him to become a vocalist was a decidedly unlikely one, but according to Jones, a necessary one. "He was writing songs, and he wanted his songs sung a certain way," Jones said. As a result, Winn began singing in order to get the proper interpretation. As a result, Jones noted, "His voice has gotten a thousand times stronger."

In 1996, the band released two independently distributed albums which ultimately led to a signing with the major label, RCA records. Perhaps one of the band's biggest breaks in terms of popular exposure came this summer when the Agents opened for the Dave Matthews Band concert tour.

"I think touring with Dave Matthews has helped our band ... It was inspiring. They started where we did, and they have achieved what they have. Some people, it bums them out. They say, 'Why can't that be me?' But it was an inspiration for us."

Of course, even after entering the high profile limelight, the band still has some brushes with reality. "We just had all our equipment stolen. Our trailer was ripped off in D.C."