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GRUMBLEWOOD

Prog Folk • New Zealand


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Grumblewood biography
Formed: 2016, Wellington, NZ
Status as of 11/2020: Active

GRUMBLEWOOD are a quartet hailing from New Zealand's Capital who are inspired by both the electric folk and progressive rock of the 1970s. Formed in 2016, they spent several years performing live and honing their style and studiocraft. To cement their faith in the vintage sound, their debut album, "Stories of Strangers", utilized only analog production techniques, inspired by guitarist Sal Richichi, who had been a producer and engineer in Los Angeles and built an analog studio. It was released in 2020 on Gravity Dream.

Comparisons to HORSLIPS and JETHRO TULL are frequently made, and the band cites influences from STEELEYE SPAN and FAIRPORT CONVENTION to URIAH HEEP, CAMEL, STRAWBS, GRYPHON, CARAVAN, and GENTLE GIANT, as well as more modern acts like SOUNDGARDEN, CIRCULUS, RIVERSIDE, ABEL GANZ, MOON SAFARI, BIG BIG TRAIN and PHIDEAUX. Nonetheless they manage to sound like a distinctive prog folk band we somehow missed out so long ago, and now have the opportunity to discover.

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3.49 | 9 ratings
Stories of Strangers
2020

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GRUMBLEWOOD Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Stories of Strangers by GRUMBLEWOOD album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.49 | 9 ratings

BUY
Stories of Strangers
Grumblewood Prog Folk

Review by nick_h_nz

4 stars [Originally published at The Progressive Aspect]

Coming from New Zealand to the UK, one thing I quickly became used to was being asked by the person who'd just discovered I was a Kiwi that they had heard New Zealand was like this country was fifty years ago, and was that true? Listening to the debut release from NZ band Grumblewood on UK label Gravity Dream, this was the first thought that came to me, because this is a sound straight from the 1970s. Not just in the music played, but the production too. This could almost be a lost Jethro Tull album, apart from Gav Bromfield being a far better singer than Ian Anderson. But with their use of vintage analogue equipment and production, and the frontman playing a mean flute too, Tull is the obvious comparison to make.

Where Grumblewood really trump Tull, though, is on the bass. Morgan Jones (who also plays bouzouki and harpsichord) plays a bloody mean bass. His nimble and nifty playing is almost constantly what I find myself listening to over any other instrument. It's one of the few vibes I get that this isn't a total '70s throwback. The funky grooves Jones lays down remind me of some of the more recent sounds to have come out of Wellington, and that have often come together in the Fly My Pretties collective. Bands like The Black Seeds, Fat Freddy's Drop and The Phoenix Foundation. Coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, Bromfield's vocals often remind me of Chris Cornell and Blaze Bailey.

My Fair Lady provides a wonderfully atmospheric opening number, with the sounds of waves, gulls and thunder, overlaid by some bluesy guitar. Up until almost the second it's almost sounding more like The Doors, until the folk comes jigging in. The juggling of the blues and folk passages is incredibly well done, and My Fair Lady makes full use of its seven-and-a-half minutes to show off the various facets that make up the sound of Grumblewood on this album. And yet, it's possibly the least impressive song on the album ? although I love the sea shanty passage that comes near the end. Picturesque Postcard has the most beautiful and delicate introduction, and remains a very pretty song, apart from the bridge where it completely rocks out. And wow, does that make an impact. There are similar moments throughout the album. For example, Castaway is nowhere near my favourite song, but has two of my favourite passages on the album. It's that kind of album, where no matter how you think you might feel about any one song, there is always a part that impresses and delights.

After the groovy and funky Fives and Nines (check out that bass again!), one of the absolute highlights of the album for me is The Sheriff Rides Again. As well as being a favourite, it also has some of the most evident moments of the comparisons I made earlier. It initially makes me think of Ian Anderson playing over 2112-era Rush (so, yeah, we're still fifty years in the past). There's some lovely crisp drumming from Phil Aldridge, and Jones' bass is laying down the groove. The mood changes to one that reminds me of another '70s band, but this time it's one of closer geographic origin ? New Zealand's own Dragon. At least, for that brief two album period on Vertigo when they played prog, before disappearing across the ditch to play pop (and had far greater success for doing so). Oh, and with an Audioslave-era Chris Cornell singing.

I can only imagine how entertaining Grumblewood must be to see play live. With mandolin and banjo played beautifully by Salvatore Richichi, along with the more usual guitar, there's a whole load of folk feel that could so easily sound contrived, but it never does. I find myself constantly imagining how the band might perform the songs. And in a way, Stories of Strangers feels almost live anyway. In these days of Pro-tools and perfect production, the '70s effect of having been recorded analogue directly to tape gives the whole album a warm and natural fuzziness. Ok, maybe I exaggerate with the fuzziness ? but the sound is noticeably different from the majority of what you hear these days, and it's just really neat.

Although there's not a single song I don't like, it does strike me that my favourites tend to occur on the second half. There's the aforementioned The Sheriff Rides Again, of course. But there's also the magnificent The Minstrel, which at eight minutes is the longest track here. Like much of the album, there's a real jazzy feel to much of the groove of The Minstrel. But just as the similarly lengthy opening number manages to seamlessly traverse rock and folk passages, The Minstrel manages to pack a few changes of its own. The final minutes are some of the heaviest of the album, sounding closer to rhythm and blues than folk, before pulling back to a beautiful and quiet finish. The title track is another favourite of mine, and provides a perfect closing number to a surpassingly eclectic, yet cohesive, album. If Blaze Bailey-era Iron Maiden were a folk band, this is what they'd sound like. Honestly, this feels to me The X Factor: Unplugged. There's the galloping Maiden riffs and rhythms, and the vocals are uncannily close to Bailey at times.

Altogether this is a fantastic album. I'm generally not a fan of bands who play a retro style of music, but Grumblewood do it with such panache and style, and dedication to authenticity, that it's hard not to get swept up into their obvious enjoyment in playing. It helps, I think, that folk is somewhat timeless, so it doesn't sound so try-hard as the many bands who seem to be attempting to replicate the '70s prog stylings of bands such as Yes and Genesis. Or maybe it's because I'm a Kiwi, and bush bands (as folk bands were often known back home) were common entertainment. Coming from Dunedin, I'll always remember The Pioneer Pog'n'Scroggin Bush Band (often known simply as "The Pogs"), who I suspect still retain the title for NZ's longest running folk band. I wish Grumblewood every success in taking that record from them.

 Stories of Strangers by GRUMBLEWOOD album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.49 | 9 ratings

BUY
Stories of Strangers
Grumblewood Prog Folk

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars This collaboration of some mature folk rockers will entice lovers of the old stuff of bands like Horslips, Jethro Tull and even Uriah Heep.

1. "My Fair Lady" (7:30) good folk rock sound with fairly simple structure and performances (especially from bass and flute) and passable vocals. The second, almost-parenthetical section, beginning at 4:50, is great--very HORSLIPS-like. The sea-shanty section in the seventh minute, too. (13/15)

2. "Picturesque Postcard" (4:42) though mandolin and acoustic guitar and pacing giving this a kind of CARAVAN and MAGIC BUS feel, the song drifts cleanly onto the tracks of JTULL paths during the heavier (electrified) chorus sections. Nothing new or too exciting here. (8.25/10)

3. "Castaways" (5:17) again, I am distracted by hearing so much of other bands in the Grumblewood sound: MAGIC BUS, CARAVAN, JETHRO TULL, HORSLIPS, and even THE ANIMALS in this one. Lead singer Gav Bromfield tries to be powerful and emotional, but it just doesn't feel authentic. (8.25/10)

4. "Fives & Nines" (4:35) The compositions and instrumentation are competent but lack flair and flourish (except, perhaps, the drummer's cymbal work). Even the flute is too tight and conservative. (8.5/10)

5. "The Sheriff Rides" (6:02) feels/sounds like a fairly sedate and conservative rehashing of an old folk song--though the frail lead vocal in the verse sections is, to my mind, the most effective of the album. I like bass being front and center but I'm not feeling the connection of his lines to the subject matter. The drums are dull and the guitar work is totally supplemental. The chorus sections weaken the song considerable. I love the subtle "cave"-like background vocals lurking in the background like ghosts--very cool. I find myself wondering what this song would sound like without any bass or drums! (8.5/10)

6. "Ex Memoriam" (3:07) More and more I'm hearing the standard blues-rock chord structures of URIAH HEEP in these songs. Sounds like a Jethro Tull rehearsal. (8.25/10)

7. "The Minstrel" (8:00) More URIAH HEEP construction with a great deal of VAN MORRISON flair. This song is by far the most adventurous and polished song on the album. As it ventures into the meat of the song--the chorus and instrumental section--there is far more of a JETHRO TULL force on exhibit. But then it turns all VAN MORRISON. The bass holds down the rhythm and flow, the guitars and drums do Van Morrison-like jazz-scatting around, and the flutes and vocals provide some nice melodic threads into the overall weave. The vocal after this actually reminds me of a cross between ERIC BURDEN and Magic Bus's PAUL EVANS. Easily the best song on the album. (13.5/15)

8. "Stories of Strangers" (5:27) reminds me of a Colin Tench or Guy Manning song--though still retaining the vocal strains and stylings of Eric Burdon. The song drags a little--like a C&W ballad or song by THE BAND. During the mandolin solo in the middle it sounds like everyone wants to launch into a rolicking uptempo jam, but just can't figure out how to do it. The entrance of electric guitar power chords helps to initiate the move--and this pace feels much more appropriate for this palette of instruments. Even when the background vocalist-supported vocal returns, this is a much better pace, though still not perfect. It just feels, with repeated listens, that this song could have used a lot more practice and polishing--so that all of the band members could feel confident enough to add little ideosyncracies of personality. (8.25/10)

Total Time 44:40

Overall, the reverbed and often doubled-up vocals of lead vocalist Gav Bromfield are just not strong or emotive enough to carry this band into the realms of top-tiered Prog Folk sound.

B-/low four stars; recommended for you to try for yourself but it is my opinion that if this album "rocks your world" then you haven't heard enough early Jethro Tull, Horslips, Van Morrison, or Uriah Heep.

Thanks to kenethlevine for the artist addition.

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