26 May 2022
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Grumblewood - Album Review: Stories of Strangers

25 Apr 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

A friend of mine in Cyprus put me onto this Wellington quartet who are signed to an English label, so I checked in with a Norwegian prog reviewer I work with to see if he had heard of them, and when he responded in the negative, I did not feel quite so bad. But I must confess to taking it personally if there is a progressive rock band in this part of the world of which I am unaware, given that I have spent more than 30 years singing the praises of the genre and bands within it. To find one releasing a debut as fine as this on my own doorstep yet again shows just deep the talent pool is here in Aotearoa for those prepared to spend the time and investigate.

Many bands within the prog scene have been influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Gentle Giant or ELP, while others have made brave leaps into fusion or Canterbury, but there are few who have gone back to the late Sixties and investigated in early Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep and taken that as a starting point. Grumblewood have even moved forward a couple of years to bring in Horslips, but they have decided on the style of music they want to pursue, and they have developed their own form of prog folk with these bands as a base. Recorded in their analogue studio, I would have expected nothing less as this is music which belongs in the live environment or on vinyl, nowhere else.

The band comprise Gav Bromfeld (vocals, flute, acoustic guitar, piano),  Salvatore Richichi (guitars, mandolin, mandola, banjo), Morgan Jones (bass, bouzouki, harpsichord) and Phil Aldridge (drums, percussion, backing vocals). It is very easy to say that if there is a flute then they must sound like Jethro Tull if they are playing prog, but even if the flute had been missing, I would still have said that these guys make me think of ‘Benefit’, so long before that band became more commercial. There is also that freedom I associate with very early Uriah Heep, before they also became a major band, while there are also those Horslips elements, although they are approaching folk more from the English style than the Celtic. Some may remember Red Jasper, who made quite a name for themselves in the 90’s scene, but Grumblewood are earthier and far more grounded, bringing in rock guitars as opposed to metal.

I would expect them to be somewhat heavier in the live environment, and I do wonder if the band will continue as they are or if they will expand as there are too many instruments for that many hands. But in the studio, they make full use of what is available, so while drums/guitar/bass/flute/vocals tend to be the mainstay of the band, the use of small touches of banjo or bouzouki here and there really does make a difference. Often it is the highly melodic bass and drums that provide the platform, with guitars coming in here and there, with flute also providing quick bursts of melody (much cleaner and with less vocal ad libs than Anderson). It is the bass which really sets the scene, as Morgan has a wonderful touch and obviously sees his role more of a lead musician than a foundation, which allows the rest to play in a quite different manner. Vocally Gav does have Ian Anderson elements, but there is also plenty of Charles O'Connor, as his voice is somewhat deeper, and he is less vocally flamboyant.

There will be those who will argue that Grumblewood are a tremendously regressive band as opposed to progressive, yet that is true about many, and they are pursuing a particular sub-genre of prog that is not often approached these days, so they really are putting themselves out on a limb and I commend them for it. I look forward to catching these guys at a gig when they make it up to Auckland, but until then I am going to keep playing and enjoying this superb debut.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )
 

About Grumblewood

Grumblewood are a quartet that hail from in and around Wellington, New Zealand. Inspired by the electric folk and progressive rock movements of the early 70s, their music draws from folk tradition and blends it with a bit of baroque, a bit of jazz, and a lot of rock.

The band formed in late 2016 and have been building a repertoire of inventive songs and a reputation for impressive performances ever since. Much of 2018 and 2019 were spend in their home-built analogue studio and the resulting recordings led to the band being signed by UK progressive rock label Gravity Dream in 2020.

Grumblewood’s debut album Stories of Strangers was released in November 2020 and features eight tales of fortune and fable, daring and demise. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered using only vintage analogue equipment and production techniques for that authentic early 70's sound.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Grumblewood

Releases

Stories of Strangers
Year: 2020
Type: Album

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