Friday, July 2, 2021

Jack Grace 4: What A Way To Spend A Night

The COVID-19 pandemic affected musicians of all income brackets, with the independent, self-managed troubadours the hardest hit. So it was that What A Way To Spend A Night by the Jack Grace Band fell once again to the machinations or lack thereof in what currently passes for the industry, and sat on the back of the proverbial stove. Luckily, nothing got burned.
Just as he’s evolved from the overt country approach of his earlier work, so has the band evolved, this time featuring Fabian Bonner on bass and Ian Griffith on drums, local boys from Cambridge in the UK, where the album was recorded. Such economy works for an album that sports a breadth of musical styles, all still within the established Jack Grace brand.
Along with the solid songwriting, another key to the album’s cohesiveness is the variety of keyboards throughout, via Bill Malchow. They’re particularly profound on “The Monster Song”, from the accordion waltz intro through the spooky organ to the double-speed ragtime bridge that gets sucked into an old victrola for a wonderful coda. We hear an evocation of early Tom Waits on “You’d Be Disappointed (If I Didn’t Disappoint You)”, and the Broken Mariachi Horns inject their patented color into “Here Comes The Breeze”. The rhythm section is particularly attentive on “Bearded Man”, which takes the simplest riff into Hendrix territory—no, really—after every exhorted “swing!” By contrast, “I’m A Burglar” is a sneaky little metaphor for something; we’re just not sure what.
The unexpected chord voicings in the instrumental “Smokehouse Discrepancy” turn the 12-bar blues on its ear, providing a nice break at the halfway point, and cleansing the palette for “Broken Melody”, a heartbreaking highlight of not just this album but his catalog. “Don’t Wanna Work Today” is probably the closest to the drinking songs of an earlier decade, while a title like “Mr. Sanderson & Sons Amazing Secret Traveling Show” will remind some of a certain track by The Band, but the arrangement shines, particularly in the mass harmonies. “Nobody Brought Me Nothing” is just plain infectious and fun, and “Chinatown” will whet your appetite for your local take-out or dine-in place while keeping you on your toes with the shifting rhyme scheme. (And it never once falls back on any musical cliché.)
What A Way To Spend A Night is solid from start to finish, and actually improves with time. Between club appearances and Internet streams we’ve heard each of these songs several times, yet it says a lot when a seasoned live performer manages to capture the definitive versions on playable media. Let’s not wait four years for the next one.

Jack Grace Band What A Way To Spend A Night (2021)—4

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