Grumblewood -
Stories Of Strangers

(CD 2020, 44:00, Gravity Dream GD003)

The tracks:
  1- My Fair Lady(7:30)
  2- Picturesque Postcard(4:42)
  3- Castaways(5:17)
  4- Fives & Nines(4:35)
  5- The Sheriff Rides(6:02)
  6- Ex Memoriam(3:07)
  7- The Minstrel(8:00)
  8- Stories Of Strangers(5:27)

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In 2019 Robin Armstrong launched his new record label Gravity Dream, mainly as a vehicle for future Cosmograf albums. He also decided to sign other artists he felt had potential but would benefit from his knowledge and expertise. His first signing was The Bardic Depths who released their self-titled album in March 2020 (see review). That was followed by albums by Arrival and Lee Abrahams. Grumblewood are the latest signing to the label and they certainly make an interesting addition to the label. They hail from New Zealand and are described by Robin as Progressive Folk Rock. But one of the reasons Robin was attracted to them was the way they recorded the album. The band had taken the very unusual and artistic step of recording, mixing and mastering entirely in analogue and the result is a warm and charming album that appears born of the golden era of progressive music.

As Robin explains, “I was intrigued immediately when Morgan Jones told me that they had recorded the album to tape. In today's world of Pro Tools and perfect production, it seemed like a barking mad thing to do, as well as incredibly artistic in equal measure. The album sounds like it was made in the early 1970s but beyond that, the song writing and musicianship is fantastically engaging”.

Grumblewood are Gav Bromfield - lead vocals, flute, acoustic guitar and piano. Salvatore Richichi - Guitars, Banjo-mandolin, banjo, Harpsichord and backing vocals. Morgan Jones - Bass, harpsichord and backing vocals and Phil Aldridge - Drums, percussion and backing vocals. As you can imagine, an album recorded in analogue direct to tape is going to sound very warm and natural, just as our favourite albums from the early seventies did. It feels like you are actually in the studio with them as they are recording. At the end of one song I swear I could hear the click of the tape machine being stopped. There is the odd buzz but who cares because the sound is noticeably different to albums being produced today in digital and it sounds fabulous.

But what of the music. Grumblewood sing and play songs with stories to them. It isn't complicated. It isn't technical but it is very well done. It is tuneful and melodic and veers on the side of folk music in a way that Jethro Tull could be describe as folk music. With a flute in their line up there will be comparisons to Ian Andersons' band and on a few occasions the vocals sound a little like him but I am sure this is not intentional. But if you like your Tull you will defiantly like this. The band know how to build a song and keep your interest to the end. The first track, My Fair Lady does this extremely well changing from a rock groove to a folk jig and back again before the vocals even start. Castaways swings along in 6/8 time before rocking out at the end with heavy guitars and flute. The Five And Nines is in 5/4 before changing to a number of other time signatures. Is This Prog? Of course it is, but played on traditional instruments along with a wonderful electric guitar sound, Bass and Drums. My favourite track is The Minstrel. It is the longest track on the album and could have been a seventies classic.

Every now and again an album comes along that stands out because it is so different. This is that album. If you lived through the golden age of recording on tape, buy this album and take yourself back. If you are too young to have experienced the thrill of hearing gifted musicians make use of an analogue studio, treat yourself to this and marvel that four guys from New Zealand committed three years of their lives to produce this little gem.

***** Dave Smith

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