Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: Grand Old Grizzly - Grand Old Grizzly

The past several years have seen a revival of roots music and, along the way, a resurgence for that heartfelt genre known as Americana. Artists such as The Civil Wars, Jim Lauderdale, Slaid Cleaves, and more have done their part in contributing to that revival. And while they’ve been hard at work on their various niches, the great state of Texas has had its share of contributors as well as guys like Robert Earl Keen, Jr., Tom Petty, Wilco, and The Old ‘97s have honed their craft. They’ve never needed a revival, as their signature sound is as fresh and relevant as it’s ever been, inspiring artists from all over the Lone Star state.

Count Will Thomas and the crew of Grand Old Grizzly among those inspired and influenced. Comprised of a selection of seasoned players, boasting credits playing for artists ranging from Kate Stuckey, Mike Stinson, The Small Sounds, and Beetle, the band came together when front man and principal songwriter Thomas began putting pen to paper. As a member of Stuckey’s band, Thomas had the opportunity to write a few songs for her and received good feedback so he kept writing. Then, during a break from touring, Thomas drew his bandmates together to perform his original compositions.

“Everyone was so prepared. It was wild to sit around for two hours and play my own songs with a band,” he says, recalling that first rehearsal.

Soon after, inspired by a margarita fueled night on tour where Thomas dubbed himself “Grizzly,” the band was named.
Comprised of Thomas (vocals/guitar), Paul Beebe (guitar/vocals), Mark Riddell (bass/vocals), and Chris Lewis (drums) and boasts a sound faithful to their Houston-based roots. The classic elements are there, the resonant “boom chicka” sound of the guitars and the woefully soulful vocals and lyrics, capturing the attention of listeners already with their authentic sound. Local stations have already been drawn to their work and the local Houston Press has nominated them for “Best New Act” and “Best Folk/Americana” awards.

After one listen to their self-titled debut and you’ll understand why.
From the first strains of the catchy toe tapper, “The Mad Ones,” listeners are drawn into GOG’s earnest Americana, jaunty electric guitars and live drums bolstering Thomas’s honest, Petty-feeling vocals. “The Sundowners” follows with more plucky guitar, the “boom chicka” acoustic strums pushing the track ahead like a lonely train down the line and Wilson doing his best Rhett Miller impression while electric strains provide additional color before seguing into the heartbreak of “Indecision,” finding Thomas singing, “My indecision led to her decision not to stay/She had a large outstanding balance/We all knew she’d never pay.”

A touch of banjo lends some breath to “Morning,” the shuffling guitars holding sway against a “give a damn” type of lyric while “Tallahassee” plugs in and rocks out while lamenting heartbreak on the road. Slowing things down to an acoustic crawl, “I Was Thinkin’” is a simple track filled with heartfelt relationship issues as “Marvelistic Coward Band” is a musical fun fair as the band plays at some playful self-mythology.
“Approaching Cars” is a solidly written track but the subdued arrangement, while well performed, just leaves you wanting more but the acoustically atmospheric “Lament” rights the course with persistent percussion and a driving lyric that Thomas delivers with comfort and ease. The chorus is a frenzy that sits well before flowing out into album closer, “Pretty Little Head,” which showcases some stellar guitar work and more strong lyricism and emotive vocals.

Grand Old Grizzly is a band that does a great job of nodding its head at its predecessors, giving props to those who’ve paved the road ahead of them, while still carving out their own place within that niche. The band’s self-titled debut is a warm, skillfully performed collection of ten Americana-flavored tracks that are perfect for a drive down a long Texas road or for listening to contemplatively under a full night sky. Either way, you win.

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