Athens-based Cam and his Dam Jam Band released their first full-length album, The Paradise Experiment, on January 1st, 2024. On the new record, the group hosts jazzy, groovy coffeehouse tunes that drawl on and on, clocking in at just under 50 minutes with eight songs. The album features the band’s 2023 single “Gypsy Magic Woman”, a psychedelic retro-sounding anthem (with an ill-advised concept), as well as an extended version of “Jet Black Moon”, originally released in 2021.
Cam and his Dam Jam Band make ambient music, not typical for the post-streaming world, but like their name, it calls back to an earlier era of jam bands and music made to be enjoyed live. Exemplified excellently by the opening track “Backpack of Stone”, this gargantuan track is nearly 10 minutes long. Except for two songs, all tracks on the record are beyond the 5-minute marker. The focus of the record is on evoking emotions using melody, tempo, and a fun array of instruments.
The musical elements are infused with sparse lyrics that tend to tell a story with only a few changes in wording. “Rob a Bank”, a western-style song, is an entertaining take on the outcast character on the run from the law. Parleying between “don’t rob a bank” and “let’s rob a bank”, the track leans on American mythology, familiar to almost everyone. The track ends in a call-and-response fashion, with lead singer Cameron Norton sounding conflicted as a chorus of voices try to dissuade him.
The diversity in the band’s repertoire is apparent, particularly in the second half. “My Potion / Three Hours Later” featuring two songs in one wrestles with these subtleties. The song begins with a rather romantic sound, which feels almost yearning. As we fade into “Three Hours Later”, the mood shifts into a more melancholy tune, with a bass that underlines the comparative emptiness of the track. “Jet Black Moon” drives further into the melancholia with an increased moodiness and lyrics alluding to isolation and loneliness, singing “ain’t nobody there to hear me now”.
The record wraps, appropriately, like a live show. “Carry Her Away” takes place on stage, a moment where Cam looks out into the audience and pines for a lady he spots, ultimately unable to get to her. He sings “Now I’m searching but she’s on the run / I was hoping that she would stay”. “Afterparty”, the shortest track by a large margin at one minute and 21 seconds, has all the oomph and joy of a celebratory post-show after-party.
Unfortunately, the familiar story of the gypsy invoked in “Gypsy Magic Woman” does leave an unsavory taste. The term “gypsy” comes from the mistaken belief that the Romani, also known as the Roma, originated from Egypt. It’s been characterized by decades of cultural references from Esmerelda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to songs by Shakira, Fleetwood Mac, and Lady Gaga. Often it refers to a provocative woman, a wanderer, a wielder of dark magic, or a cunning thief, sometimes a mix. The history of the Roma is fraught with decades of persecution across Europe and beyond, spanning genocide during World War II to forced sterilizations into this century. The term gypsy is an extension of that persecution and is seen by most as a racial slur. Thus, it’s unfavorable and objectionable for Cam and his Dam Jam Band to lean into the gypsy stereotype with a song and visuals to back it up. Though, without a doubt, a reflection of the lack of knowledge on the subject in the US.
In The Paradise Experiment, Cam and his Dam Jam Band harken us back to when music at will was indispensable to most, with the live local band being a staple in everyone’s soundtrack, giving us the ambient music we would feel so plain without. Skipping over the poorly titled “Gypsy Magic Woman”, you’ll find an otherwise impressive selection of music to groove and jive to. If the point was to create an advertisement to go and see the dam jam band live already, well then I’d say it worked.
Buket is recent graduate of the University of Georgia (Music Business Alum) and the current Editor-in-Chief of Vinyl Mag. She believes that a sincere lover of music can find something to like in just about any song. She loves to write to escape the grueling drudgery of capitalism. She is currently on a gap year abroad, spending her free time drumming up new ideas for Vinyl Mag and trying to beat her previous Spotify Wrapped "My Minutes Listened" record.