November 22, 2020

Exquisite, skillful, rich in imagination and feel…

The debut album from Grumblewood plays like a lost classic. It certainly doesn’t have much 21st century about it, and yet it’s a wonderfully refreshing change. You see, this quartet from Wellington, New Zealand merrily ignores boundaries, feeling every bit at home playing trippy bass lines and groovin’ electric riffs as they are serving up jiggy mandolin and flute-based folk tales. They adeptly handle whatever style they inject into their music, but they don’t pretend to be anything they’re not. Though many descriptors surely apply to this first platter (there’s even a touch of stoner about them), Grumblewood are primarily an electric folk rock band with jazzy flourishes – from everyone, but particularly in the wickedly impressive rhythm section. All of this and more is evident on Stories Of Strangers.

The album, like those of the 60s and 70s heroes the Grumblies doff their caps to, clocks in at a healthy and comfortable 45 minutes, mercifully unbloated by the filler material that so often devalues modern releases. Additionally, their commitment to old school operations is clear, recording the album entirely in analogue live to a 1967 Ampex 8-track machine and mixing it on a vintage Soundcraft console. In the age of remote recordings, sound files and recording software, this level of dedication to the days of yore is unheard of.

By the time I was on my fourth listen, each of these eight charming pieces had nestled into my memory, gleefully setting up shop and coalescing to reveal one of those surprising where-did-that-come-from albums that bring hope to the more jaded listeners among us. One can’t help but smile at the hopelessly infectious grooves of Fives And Nines, whistle along with the tuneful My Fair Lady, or get swept up in the shifting sections of the adventurous mini-epic (and album highlight) The Minstrel.

From a lyrical standpoint, the folklore-infused tales told throughout the album are worth reading along to in the well-illustrated booklet, but it’s the music that’s top priority with these four fine players. Arrangements are exquisite, tempos change skillfully, moods transition with ease. Flutes chirp and trill, rubbery bass bounces, plucked mandolins sweeten the air, cymbals ring crisply. Songs of ladies, sherriffs and castaways are sung, addictive melodies and rhythms boom forth… and before you know it, the album has finished and you’ve caught the Grumblewood listening bug.

Stories Of Strangers is a head bobber and a toe tapper, rich in imagination and feel, and earns a huge and genuine recommendation as a ‘try it, you’ll like it’ album. In fact, you’ll like it a lot. Well done, chaps, I’ll be first in line for the follow-up!