Idiot Grins’ ‘Big Man’ an R&B album that sounds like it’s come from a bygone era
On their new album “Big Man,” Bay Area R&B group Idiot Grins performs music from a bygone era without any apologies.
As soon as you press play on the first track, that retro feel hits you, and it keeps it up like a slow burn through the 1970s or early 80s that’s more Otis Redding or Booker T than Al Green. There’s also touches of Gram Parsons, who is listed as a major influence for the whole crew of musicians.
Nearly each song has that feel-good, laid back, down-home charm that crawls into your brain and refuses to get out.
Part of that’s due to the great horns from Johnny Bamont, sax player for 80’s super group Huey Lewis and the News, among countless others, and Mic Gillette, trumpet playing powerhouse with the legendary East Bay R&B band Tower of Power, among others.
On the song, “All Alone,” lead vocalist John Hansen sings, “No I can’t, and I won’t, and I shan’t, and I don’t, so darling, stay close to me,” signing about the wife of his best friend, according to the first line of the track. It shows the complex mess that love can become.
“You’re another man’s woman, and it’s understood. When we’re together, we’re always up to no good, and although I protest, and we say that it’s a shame, I’m comin’ back for more, I’m always to blame,” he sings.
It’s a spectacular song that doesn’t sugar coat what it is and is a piece of real life put on display, whether he’s singing from personal experience or not.
What’s interesting is how you think you know what each song will sound like, but then you get to “Paso Robles,” and they hit you with a country track. It might be a little too far from anything else on the album, but they pull it off well so you can’t help but appreciate the flexibility. The final track, “Sour Man,” also has a country feel, but what makes it harder to enjoy is that it sounds so little like anything else on the album.
While “Paso Robles” sounds like a Idiot Grins performing a country song, “Sour Man,” just sounds like a country track from a different band entirely. It wouldn’t be that bad of track on it’s own, but here it just doesn’t sound like it belongs.
If I were to come up with any criticism, it’s that this album sides closer to albums of the past than something considered popular today. In a way there’s something endearing about that, though. Idiot Grins knows they’re kicking it in a way that the kids might find out-of-touch, but they do it anyhow, and they do it well.
So, in that way, I’m inclined to recommend checking these guys out. They’re talented musicians who show off a lot of flexibility here, even if it might be a little too much at times.