Friday, December 2, 2011
No Lie reviewed by Mark Thompson
Crossroads members should certainly be well-acquainted with Eric Noden from his frequent trips to Rockford over the years to participate in our Blues in the Schools program as a solo artist or with his musical counterpart, Joe Filisko. This project finds Noden in his familiar roles as lead singer and songwriter for half of the tunes. He also plays guitar and banjo guitar. He shares the spotlight with the multi-instrumentalist Rick Sherry, who plays washboard, harmonica, guitar, banjo guitar, clarinet and kick drum in addition to handling some of the lead vocals and composing five of the songs. The band is filled out with Beau Sample on bass and jug plus Mike Hogg on sousaphone. Additional support comes from Jim Becker on fiddle, saw and mandolin – Tom V. Ray on banjo & ukulele – and Mike Reed on drums.
As you can tell from the list of instruments, the Grumblers play music in the old-time string band style, with Hogg's sousaphone giving a nod to the New Orleans brass band tradition. Up-tempo tracks "Stump Grinder" and "Ramblin, Ramblin, Ramblin" give the group a chance to show that, given a chance, they'd have no problem filling the dance floor. Noden's delicate guitar lines play off the booming sousaphone on "9 Bar" while Sherry and Noden do a vocal duet. The insistent beat and Noden's expressive singing make "Broke & Dead" a standout track. Sherry's mournful harp and Becker's fiddle playing dance around the vocal line to great effect.
The Mississippi Sheiks are one of the Grumblers main influences. They cover a Sheiks tune, "Jailbird Lovesong" with fiddle and banjo featured behind Sherry's lead vocal. "Stain on the World" takes a humorous look at the people who claim to see miraculous images in things like toast or bedsheets. Sherry, the founder of Devil in the Woodpile, is a magnificent washboard player, spinning out dazzling rhythms on cuts like the the instrumental "Push Reel" and on the band's theme song, "EZ Ridin' Grumblers", with Noden once again taking vocal honors. "I Hate You Gin" is well-played the band but it exposes Sherry's vocal limitations. The New Orleans connection is highlighted on "SG Blues" with Sherry's clarinet adding charm to the cut.
Along with groups like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the South Memphis String Band, the Sanctified Grumblers are doing their part to fuel the renaissance of pre-war blues and jug band music. These guys really have a knack for the older styles – and they don't forget to have fun along the way. If you're yearning for a break from the standard electric blues format, No Lie is a fine introduction to a band that will bring a smile to your face and set your feet to tapping.
Reviewed by Mark Thompson