Album Reviews

Idiot Grins

Big Man

Artist:     Idiot Grins

Album:     Big Man

Label:     CD Baby

Release Date:     04/06/2015

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On Big Man, the second release from Oakland, Calif.-based Idiot Grins, old school soul is reinterpreted a la Mayer Hawthorne. Here, however, the Grins take it one step further, melding twangy guitars and slick, Memphis-style horns into the formula to create their own pastiche that works to their advantage. Thanks to Huey Lewis and the News’ Johnny Bamont (sax) and Tower of Power’s Mic Gillette (trumpet), there’s a healthy dose of authenticity to the record, which is already a resounding homage to Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding and other Memphis-bred soul.

The album is quite a departure from the band’s debut rocker, Quarry. Recorded in Memphis’s legendary Ardent Studios using original Stax Records equipment, the band easily slides into its new sound. In “How to Get to (Baltimore),” John Hansen’s vocals nicely accent Bamont’s domineering sax, setting the stage for the genre-sprawling to come. Hansen’s vocals remain rock reminiscent–rougher around the edges than most R&B, yet with ample emotion and heart backing it.

The short, punchy single “Poppy Piss” once again puts a unique twist on the band’s Springsteen-esque roots, but just when you’ve settled into the soul, “Paso Robles” brings on the twang, throwing listeners into a musical tug of war. As Randy Strauss, lead guitarist explains, “Soul and country come from the same place – the heart.”

Big Man is an amalgamation of music that’s near and dear to them; a blend of what they accomplished before and their admiration of Stax classics. If putting a new spin on a vintage sound was their goal, then mission accomplished. As listeners boogie down with Big Man, they can speculate on what genre Idiot Grins will tackle next. Based on this record, it seems the (Memphis) sky’s the limit.

Nick Caruso

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