Sometimes sounds just feel right, like a crackling fire spreading warmth through the soul on a snowy winter night, or a sun burning daylight down on tall pines, or mountain tops glowing in the darkness. Grover Anderson taps into those sounds. With The Frontman, Anderson returns to the gold rush hills of his Americana roots in Calaveras County on his follow up to 2017’s From the Pink Room.
Grover Anderson and The Lampoliers (Marshall Henry – guitars, organ; Anthony Delaney – bass; Josh Certo – percussion) bring eight songs to life with lush, majestic beauty. The backing band craft the foundation of this storyteller’s saga of life and love, while an array of guests color tracks shifting through folk, country and Americana.
Wandering into The Frontman, “The Good” brings on a sense of ease and comfort with each note. This is no-pretense traveling music, as the violin and authentic songwriter vocals bring to mind the great Glen Campbell (“Wichita Lineman”) who painted soundscapes that surpassed the confines of genre. Austin Broder (ofThe Risky Biscuits) lends his fiddle to the composition. I’m not a huge fan of country music, but If that song is country music, I am definitely a fan of that.
Anderson lays the lyrical imagery and wit on thick in “Standing Water.” The musical poetry with twang sounds like Lukas Nelson and The Promise of The Real. Henry’s guitar soars perfectly, leaving space for guest Chelsea Sue to sprinkle in a feminine vocal touch. “Parallel” welcomes guest Kiel Williams (of The Risky Biscuits) on pedal steel. Tangible angst bleeds through simple words. Uncluttered, this cut has room to feel pain. Most everyone has known a broken heart and the space left between two hearts that once beat together.
In the world of storytelling, each chapter has its perfect place. Sequencing plays an integral part in The Frontman. Uptempo redemption breathes on the rapturous symphony of “Evergreen.” Joining Anderson’s vocal with Nathan Semprebon’s (of The Risky Biscuits) is genius, plain and simple. Broder’s fiddle joinsJimbo Scott (of Poor Man’s Whiskey) on this gem. Reminiscent of Jason Isbell’s textural “Last of My Kind” from 2017’s The Nashville Sound, this track combines the best of Americana, roots and country into something cool.
A soft resting place, “On Comfort” brings back images of great singer-songwriters like James Taylor who needed few words and less time to say what needed to be said. This acoustic flicker is not to be underestimated. Wandering towards the end of a rich record, fourteen-year-old Joshua Swank plays cello alongside Broder’s fiddle on “The Archives.” The vocal delivery brings Glen Campbell back to life again. This time, however, this song haunts the soul on another level as each metaphor unfolds. Each note speaks volumes, reinforcing the musician’s vision.
“Wasps” features guestsNate Nathan on piano and Williams on electric guitar. The band delivers a honky-tonk vibe and a downhome groove, but this ain’t no “tears in my beer” country tune. Instead it’s more of a “throw your dog in the truck with the kids and ease on down the road, it’ll be alright” sort of track. Closing out with the title track, “The Frontman” is brilliant. Grover Anderson and The Lampoliers really want to leave an honest impression of who they are as a band.
Anderson is a storyteller extraordinaire. In From the Pink Room, Anderson told his fans how this troubadour got his wish. Now, The Frontman gives listeners an idea of how the view has changed after stepping into the sun. This album makes me curious to hear what happens next with Anderson’s work.–Lisa Whealy
Love can be a fickle mistress, filled with hope and expectation, fear and anticipation. Grover Anderson has found a way to tap into the journey almost everyone experiences in his new album From the Pink Room. This new acoustic album, released March 3, 2017, is a simple, sweet expression of how a skilled songwriter shares his perceptions acoustically with incredible ease.
As the story goes, the musician holed up in the back room of his house that is covered with pink striped walls. The concept of this album was born out of a meeting with a woman. She had been in a relationship for seven years; the house’s previous owner had painted the room with the vibrant color. It is also known as the healing color for the heart chakra, making this album all the more special.
Anderson opens the album with “Evergreen” as an intentional hope for the future. The growth of something special is like the organic path of life. With exceptional talent, Anderson’s fingerpicking guitar fits the content. When telling a story like this, it could be easy to get lost, but Anderson paints a masterpiece landscape with the songs. Harry Nilsson comes to mind in “Parallel,” challenging listeners to come along for the ride, soulful and real. The lyrical landscape here is full of imagery, and the sensory exploration of “Natural Bridges” is no exception. Raw and unapologetic, it is a challenge to get real. It is also a tribute to the landmark that graces Calaveras County, where Anderson grew up–undoubtedly a hangout for the locals.
The great thing about music that fits into the Great American Songbook is that there is depth and substance in telling the American experience. This album is no exception, painting a picture through the color spectrum. “Holes” hits the dark places between relationships, often painful and uncertain. Part of the experience with this auditory picture book is the cover art design and artwork by Alexis Wagner; the color spectrum is the left to right vision that parallels the album. “Little Spoon” is the uptempo romp that square dances its way through the middle of the album–a heartbeat of hope and joy.
It is not strange how art is shaped by real life. “Willie Nelson” and “For Goose” both touch on grief and the power it has over a life left to live. Haunting and hopeful, the two songs contrast each other like complimentary colors in a garden of flowers. What lessons are learned is the message, but the memory is the real foundation. “Boulder” is one of the absolute standouts on an exceptional indie acoustic guitar release. In covering The Smiths’ classic “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” Anderson shows off a stellar mix of simplicity and power. Haunting and painful, the song resonates with every and any broken heart. Emotions bleed through the vocal delivery from Anderson.
A full fourteen songs includes “Old Songs” as a mash-up of other music, creative and fresh. Taking it back into the breakup of love, “Ember” is a rip-to-shreds appraisal of a she-devil mankiller. A lyrical masterclass, it is a joy to feel the burn. “The Best You Can” has also found its way onto From The Pink Room, taking everything full circle. Its acoustic elegance is wrapped in a neat package. A fourteen-song journey through the spectrum of emotions as well as color, this album is Americana Country at its finest.–Lisa Whealy
Arkansas folk-pop outfit Little Chief is shiver-inducingly good. Lion’s Den is a strikingly cohesive, mature, and assured work for a debut album from a young group of musicians.
Little Chief skews toward Mumford and Sons’ style of straightforward songcraft, but they do in a vastly less percussive style. The band softens the edges of everything, from gentle guitar strum to cello inclusions to melodic group vocals instead of shouted ones. The result is a collection of songs that work their way into your long-term memory in a very unassuming manner. I’ve been humming Little Chief tunes long after I heard them, and it drives me back to the album.
Their gentle touch makes every high higher than it would be, because it feels non-obvious and genuinely celebratory. These aren’t party songs, they’re songs of jubilation. “Brighton Shore” and “Shiloh” are both tunes that take feelings of loss and hardship and transform them. This album is deeply concerned with carrying on through trouble, and their humble approach to songcraft displays that earnest emotion.
“Mountain Song” and “Lion’s Den” show the arranging prowess of the band. “Mountain Song” has a long, gorgeous instrumental intro, while the full-song crescendo of “Lion’s Den” is punctuated by an excellent cello part, well-timed drums, and tasteful brass. This band has chops–it knows when to use them and when to let simplicity be.
If you’re into folk-pop, Lion’s Den is a must-listen. It has the emotive heft of The Head and the Heart, the arrangements of early Fleet Foxes, and melodies galore. It’s astonishingly confident for a debut album, but I’m not questioning it: if it’s good, it’s good. Highly recommended.
It’s a common problem that bands will find a sound they’re good at and hit it until their audience is just sick of it. Grover Anderson handles that problem by playing songs in vastly different genres, somehow managing to avoid sounding like a tourist or faker in any of them. Frantic murder ballads, love ballads, jilted lover electric blues, back-porch pickathon shout-it-outs, brilliant country tunes, and downtempo minimalist all hang out on The Optimist. It’s a credit to Anderson’s skills that each of them sounds natural. It makes for an odd listening experience as a collection of tunes (multiple people die, multiple people get married–sometimes in close quarters), but each individual song is worthwhile.
Given my personal predilections, I’m more interested in the bluegrassy “Pick Up Your Horn” and the Bon Iver-esque “Grindstone” than in the Mraz-style love songs “When You Come Near” and “Enough.” But the gentle fingerpicking of breakup tune “Dancing Slow” calls to mind the weighty work of Ray LaMontagne, which seems to be the antithesis of Jason Mraz in my mind.
All of this love in stark contrast to “The Lampolier” and “Philip Marshall Cates,” both of which are intense murder ballads, the likes of which I haven’t heard in a very long time. To start with, “The Lampolier” is an incredible piece of lyricism, as Anderson puts together an intriguing, eerie story through a very structured rhyme scheme. Amid this complexity, Lampolier delivers a masterful vocal performance that sees him ratchet from a gentle speak/sing to outright desperate hollering. I still get shivers when Anderson roars wordless distress three minutes in. The band is a runaway coal train behind him, pressing the song forward to its inevitable end. It’s the single and the opener, and it doesn’t take many brain cells to decide that both were excellent decisions. “Philip Marshall Cates” isn’t as electric in its convictions, but it’s another death ballad that sits in stark contrast to the love songs.
Also, “Little Spoon” is my favorite love song released this year. Some love songs are huge, sweeping announcements of love–others focus on the little, pedestrian parts of love that make it so wonderful, like drinking Blue Moons together, spooning, and spending time together. Anderson’s tune is the latter.
So Anderson’s got a ton going on in this album, being a lot of things to a lot of people. But no matter who you are, it’s hard to ignore that Anderson’s songwriting skill is great. I look forward to seeing how he adapts and focuses his skills in upcoming work (or not). If you’re into people who play acoustic guitars, Grover Anderson has something for you.
Bunches of MP3s have come my way recently, and I’m happy to share some with you. Come back on Friday for the Spring/Summer mix!
1. “Reno” – Shareef Ali. Anti-folk, acoustic-punk, and country converge on this memorable, attitude-filled breakup tune. (Ali’s CD release show is tonight, if you happen to find yourself in San Francisco.)
2. “Blankets” – Matthew Fowler. Fowler has a smooth, soothing voice that sounds far more mature than his 19 years. Fans of Josh Garrels and Ray LaMontagne should take notice.
3. “The Lampolier” – Grover Anderson. As fall moves toward winter, let’s move from pretty singer/songwriters to the haunting, backwoods Appalachian murder ballad tradition. The production here is particularly notable.
4. “Down to My Soul (The Music)” – Kate Vargas. When a woman says she’s influenced by Tom Waits, that gets my attention. Vargas delivers on that promise with raspy, soulful, inspired folk full of banjo and danger.
5. “Strugglin’” – I Am the Albatross. This one also starts out as a Tom Waits-ian folk ramble, but it transforms into a Gogol Bordello folk/punk/polka blaster complete with vengeful religious imagery. All aboard!
6. “All Walks of Life” – Mike Dillon. I’m used to Mike Dillon’s unclassifiable madness played at 3 zillion BPMs. This unclassifiable madness includes a significantly chiller body before a naturally madcap coda but is no less weird: it still includes vibraphone, trombone, drums, and Dillon’s crazy vocals.
7. “Alta / Waterfall” – Fear of Men. Jangly indie-rock urgency married to the rich, dusky landscapes of Bowerbirds and the like.
8. “Blight ft. FatRat Da Czar” – We Roll Like Madmen. Very smooth, dark, crisp electro here. FatRat Da Czar raps some really nice flow over it, really making this track.
9. “Ruin” – Vedas. The PR for this one calls it a “hollow depletion of hope,” which makes me want to try and cheer them up. Their James Blake-ian electro-pop/R&B/indie/whatever stuff is definitely attractive, though. All is not lost, yo!
10. “Reset” – Maggie McClure. Here’s a cathartic, female-fronted, piano-based pop tune for those who never stopped secretly loving The Fray and The Goo Goo Dolls.
11. “RaVe (feat. Kris English)” – Cloud Seeding. Is it folk? Is it electro? The lines keep getting fuzzier. Either way, this one is a lithe, easy-moving track.
12. “There Was a Time” – Corea Blue. Lo-fi can always get grittier, y’all. Props to this track for creating a zen-like mood and tone while using tape hiss as an instrument.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.