Oakland, California’s Idiot Grins have a new album to brag about. They enlisted the skills of Johnny Bamont – the man behind the sax in Huey Lewis and the News, and trumpeter Mic Gillette for “Big Man”, the group’s followup to 2011’s “Quarry”. To give the record just the right flavor, it was mastered in the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis. When you listen to “Big Man” I recommend having a tall glass of water nearby; it’s just that hot.
The opening song on the album, How To Get to (Baltimore), alerts you to the beginning of something as soulfully good as a well-balanced dry rub. This song introduces us to the horns can blast away the rain clouds that are bringing you down – metaphorical or otherwise. Rounded out melodies and vocals fit like my favorite pair of jeans, and if you’re not getting down after the vocals, Johnny Bamont’s saxophone solo will do the trick. Big Man’s title track is a song of contentment with a nod to the insecurities that sometimes impinge upon our relationships. This is a love song with reality, superlatives, and soul, delivered straight from the ventricles. The slow tempo and wailing vocals belie a comfortable frankness with the relationship, and with the horns. This is the sort of song that makes you, without thinking, reach for the hand of the one you love because whatever might be going on, you’re in it together.
The album’s first single, Poppy Piss, begins with the steady tempo and honest vocals that Springsteen became known for – or is it because the woman being sung to is named Maria? But yet, Idiot Grins gives the lyrics a simplicity and delightful assonance that endear this song to me more than could any greeting from Asbury Park. Michael Melgoza’s vocals are honest and forthright and Bamont flexes his playful pulmonary power on the brass. Stack This is fun from the beginning. With an upbeat tempo and horns that get your feet moving, it reaches out of the speakers and beckons you to dance. “I only have one hubcap, but I don’t really care…” If only Car Talk were still on the radio! This song oozes that fun, spastic desperation that the right mixture of youth and fierce infatuation can elicit. As the song winds things down (“I’m strolling back to you,” belts out Melgoza), the listener is provided with a moment to breathe, take a sip of something cold and wet, and think about what he really wants out of life.
Poppy Piss on Soundcloud
When a song begins with the line, “You’re the wife of my best friend’s brother,” you know it’s going to be juicy. The story in All Alone unfolds over a classic soul menagerie of bass, drums, and brass. The song pulls at your soul with a tale of illicit yearning that leaves Melgoza feeling guilty. To his credit, he denies taking action on the crush. Oh, but what psychological torment he expresses! Tempted by alcohol, it seems that solitude is the only answer. I wonder if they’re friends on Facebook. Snuggy Doo starts out at a bar and progresses beyond, into a hopping paean to the communication [and miscommunication] between lovers. If only we could read our partner’s mind, things would be so much easier, right? We would understand exactly what they mean when they reply, “It’s okay,” as Melgoza’s ladyfriend replies to his morning fumbling. But eheu, we’re not mind readers, and it’s probably better that way. That way, we learn to accept the unspoken, and continue loving that person just as they love us. That is the essence of Snuggy Doo, at least as I understand it. I think I’m falling in love with Idiot Grins.
One Reason has the same raw honesty, admission of imperfections, and derring-doo as Let It Be by that famous foursome. But the horns take it to another level. Those horns are the makeup on a clown, the leather on a fetishist, the butter in a rue. Melgoza has the power in his pipes that I dream of every time I assess the acoustics of my shower. I empathize with Idiot Grins more than with any other song on this album. I want to give them soup and shelter and let them stay until the sun comes out again. Ivory Motor is composed with the excellence of a well-tailored suit. What songwriting talents! It is a veritable fiesta of sound, and if I had put a cover on my latte, I’d be up and dancing. I am flabbergasted by the jaw-dropping fullness of sound and glee of being alive that Ivory Motor ignites.
With a country twang, Paso Robles swaggers into the room. If you’re thinking this is going to be another conservative ode to the uncomplicated life a man shares with his pickup truck, you’re mistaken. A couple lines in, Paso Robles puts an avocado on your burger and makes for something much more interesting. Something worth listening to. The party salaciously starts back up with brass, bass, and a strong beat in Ovaltang. This song has it all: sex, daytime drinking, and double entendres, all backed up with that funky, makes-you-wanna-dance beat. Sour Man sprawls out in front of you like a Bichon Frise. As it languidly lolls along, exposing its vulnerabilities, an explanation is sought, and we get to such lines as “go on, blame it on Jesus… He’s dead, he probably won’t mind.” It’s an appropriate end to a cathartic album that soulfully explores the familiar and dives nose first into the unknown in a world of life, love, and unexplainable consequences of simply breathing on this rock we call Earth.
“Big Man” may not hold the answers to life’s unanswered questions, but it’s a good way to spend your precious time with the people you care about most. Add it to your Libro Musica today, it just might cleanse your soul.