George Gritzbach Music (label)
01 June 2021 (released)
23 August 2021
How often has this happened? You go out on a Saturday night, have a nice dinner then make your way to a local bar for a nightcap. The place is packed and a blues band is tearing the roof off the place. The rhythm section has everyone up and dancing, the singer's wailing on the harmonica in between verses, and the guitarist is piercing into your soul with their emotional solos. You knock back a few whiskeys and have a killer night. On your way out, you pick up a CD to take home so you can relive that epic night. A few weeks later, you toss it on... and the magic's gone. The frenzy of people and booze elevated your perception of the band at the time but when you listen back, they're playing the same 12-bar blues for every song. Same start, middle, and end.
It takes more than the same old blues-rock formula to make a great album. You need depth. Depth of lyrics, depth of style, depth of playing, depth of songwriting. For a blues-rock album to stand out, it has to do more than just hammer out the I-IV-V chord progression for every track.
George Gritzbach and his band of top-notch players have the chops to blow you away down at the blues club or even opening for greats like B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray but their latest album Full Circle also delivers what many tend to ignore, great songs. The album offers a wide range of moods from classic rockers to sultry back alley slow jams with lyrics that go beyond the overdone blues tropes. In addition to the top-tier musicians in his band, the record features harmonica master Jerry Portnoy who toured with Clapton and was a fixture in Muddy Waters band.
'All About Now' kicks things off with a lively, party down at the docks vibe. The 'La Bamba' style rhythm is boosted by hyped horns as Gritzbach slips in a slice of Buddhist insight into this unassuming American party track. He delivers the simple pearl of wisdom: “Wherever you are, be there/You got no time to spare/Wherever you are, be there/Be there or be nowhere”. 'Sweet Misery' quickly switches up the mood to that low down, lover's angst. Organ sets the scene as the heavily verbed guitar lead announces the tale of heartache to come. The pangs of an addictive relationship are born out by Portnoy's mournful harmonica trading off with Gritzbach's yowling axe-work. A standout track early on.
The mood lightens back up with the aspirational 'One Race, Many Faces'. Gritzbach steps away from the classic heartache and hard financial times themes that pervade the genre to take a broader look at how we relate to each other. The songwriter tears down the superficial divides between people to recognize that we're all a part of the same race. A message that has been shouted for decades yet still seems to need to be reiterated till it's finally understood.
Another track that keeps you coming back is the laid-back classically styled 'Never Far Away'. The song keeps a light bounce with bells and soft horn hits giving it the good-time groove of 70s blue-eyed soul. Gritzbach's breezy wistful tune recalls Tommy James and the Shondells hit 'Crystal Blue Persuasion'. The dark smoky blues returns on 'Black Rose' where rattlesnake shakers and hushed guitar tones tell the tale of a late-night trip through creole country. This Voodoo slow-burn lets Gritzbach spin a yarn about Southern Gothic territory, using his guitar as a textural paintbrush. Another creative high point on the record.
Full Circle gives soul, depth, and intrigue to the blues-rock genre. A record well acquainted with its roots yet not beholden to the ruts of the format. There are plenty of great bar-rockin' grooves on the album but the artistic high points come on songs like 'Sweet Misery' and 'Black Rose' where Gritzbach stretches out and gets deep into character.