Grant / McGuire/ Flaherty: Pre-war Blues, 21st century rags

Grant/ McGuire/ Flaherty album cover | Photo Via Carbon Records

Conor Moore | News Director

Grant / McGuire / Flaherty harkens back to–and sounds like–the time in American history when songs were recorded with tin cans and spoons (Officially, a washboard is credited as an instrument in the liner notes of the album), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A collaborative EP between up-and-coming guitarist Liam Grant, fiddle player Grayson McGuire and banjoist Devon Flaherty, it carries the weight of its influences so strongly as if to remind the listener of a time that has long since-passed.

Most of the songs are traditional. The EP opens with “Spoonful”, a cover of a classic Willie Dixon blues number made famous by Howlin’ Wolf.

In a spot of humor, authenticity, or both, the trio leave in a failed take before properly launching into the song, a fun musical cauldron that gracefully introduces the theming and sound of the project.

The playing is sharp and cogent even amidst the production, which might not be for everyone. A four-track tape recorder or aluminum foil taped to a string might be the primary suspect at play here, and anyone unfamiliar with the sound of the pre-war Delta and Piedmont blues might be a bit put off by how rustic the production is.

But that’s the point in a way–it’s tasteful in its purpose and form, and prevents the music from sounding like a complete gallimaufry of 21st century pastiche.

Liam Grant’s wistful slide guitar is the star of the show here. It’s clear Jack Rose and Daniel Bachman inhabit his world (The EP itself is reminiscent of Rose’s banjo-and-fiddle-laced posthumous release Luck In The Valley), but Grant takes a style all on his own, something evidenced by his musical growth in his previous album released last year, Amoskeag.

His original composition “Dry and Dusty”, the only one on the EP and perhaps its best tune, showcases his steady two-and-four rhythm accentuated by the gorgeous fiddle melodies of McGuire and rolling arpeggios of Flaherty’s banjo.

It makes for an excellent high point that solicits more from the listener with each play.

There’s singing, too – the whole band contributes at points, scattered tenor yelps serving as worthy accompaniments to the rollicking arrangements. Can I make out the lyrics? Sometimes. Does it matter? Not really.

The EP is an earnest compendium of songs from a genre that gets written off as “old-timey”, existing for itself simply as a well-performed, enjoyable piece of music. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for capital-A American music in the 21st century that doesn’t indulge in laundry lists of vague cliches like whiskey, tailgates and populist ramblings, then look no further.

The aforementioned homespun earnestness comes through in the final sentence of the EP’s liner notes, an enthusiastic call to arms for musicians everywhere– “No overdubs, play loud!”.

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