july 2009

thumbnailGRIZZLE N' BONE
Tas Cru
Crustee Tees Records

If you're a fool for the blues, you've come to the right place if you've cued up Tas Cru's raw, righteous Grizzle N' Bone, yet another Tas outing extending his proclivity for advancing a food metaphor in his album titles. Well, the title is right on in the sense of the intensity level remaining on the upper end of the dial throughout, but there's also a heart moving through this work, and it's unafraid of revealing itself, as it does so captivatingly at various junctures, thanks not only to the star's gritty, sandpaper-inflected, soulful vocals but also to the sensitive communication between he and his band, the engaging Slap Happy Boys (supplemented by Chip Lamson on keyboards). Tas never approaches a song cautiously; he goes after it aggressively, gets way down inside it, and then emerges with a statement you ignore at your own peril. The title track's hard charging country blues advances a message in metaphor about, it appears, our hero's love life, or what remains once he's been chewed up and spit out. Similarly, the funky strut and sassy repartee of the trio of female sisters-in-soul known as the Stacked Decked Singers comprise a sultry background for an at-least-semi-autobiographical protest about hard-luck misadventures that have the artist howling, "It's hard to keep on winning/when the Devil always stacks the deck." Amen to that, brother. There's a nice nod to JJ Cale in the laid-back soul of "Tulsa Tornado," which features a particularly funky contributions by Lamson on keyboards and Thomas Beckstead on B3 alongside some stinging slide guitar work and a growling account of a T-town man-eating woman. (You don't even have to listen close to hear how indebted Tas is vocally to another great blues 'n' soul man, Delbert McClinton, especially on "Tulsa Tornado," which sounds like a song custom-built for Delbert to scorch.) On the gentler side, Tas shows off a plaintive, soulful balladic side of himself, and an appealing vulnerability, in the touching acoustic ballad, "Let's Just Pretend," a quiet, sensuous plea for emotional as well as physical intimacy. That same sensitivity informs the swaying, seductive swing of "All Good" and the shuffling, heartfelt down-home country blues of "Prophet of Lynchburg," featuring Gretchen Koehler adding keening violin punctuation. And on a rousing closer, he takes one of his popular concert numbers, a cover of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher," starts it in low gear with a plaintive, Delta blues moan and groan, ahead of the Stacked Deck gals entering with a restrained gospel cry, then the full band, but still pulling back as the vocalists male and female start taking it to another level. A slide guitar wails, Tas testifies with preacherly conviction, and a little more than halfway through the 6:25 workout, it takes wing, truly heading for higher ground, and keeps churning and grinding until finally it soars to a glorious, delirious conclusion. Given how much misfortune has been recounted on Grizzle N' Bone to this point, the elevated spirit of "Higher and Higher" sends the proceedings out on a positive, life affirming grace note. Do not mistake the album title as a comment on the nutritional quality of the music herein—it's plenty meaty, and then some. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024