This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 5/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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You're driving along and all of a sudden the car ahead suddenly swerves to the side of the road, coming to a lurching halt. In equal parts terror and wonder, you pass by, curiosity forcing a sideways look. The driver, intently scribbling on a piece of paper, notices nothing and no one. Quite unknowingly, you have just witnessed a moment of songwriter inspiration. A lyric, a line or two must be captured on paper before evaporating back into the cosmos on a one-way ticket.
Al Grierson, the sage of the school bus, obviously never needs to pull over and spend time on the side of the road. His prolific subconscious flows with visionary and incandescent marinades, combining literate communication with free-rein imagination. A listening to his tales leaves one exhilarated, feeling more alive, as if exposed to some higher, greater truth. His talent for capturing visions and translating them into edifying mediums is remarkable.
Equally elliptical, understated and forceful, his stream of consciousness rhythmic ramblings tap into latent emotions through the collective force of his well-placed words. Part impressionist, part abstractionist, part realist, it's next to impossible to guess where he's taking his tunes so it's best to quit trying to guess and just enjoy the ride.
His song titles are equally quirkily laden: "Lonely Deadhead Boxcar," Dust-Bowl Don Quixote," "The Flowers Of Auschwitz," "Rick Blaine Retires To Luckenbach, Texas To Cultivate The Middle Way," "Our Lady, The Buddha," and "Jesus Loves The Working Folks." Too many singer-songwriters trip over the portentousness of their song titles, but not Grierson. He piques interest and then delivers.
On his first release, "Things That Never Added Up To Me," Grierson provides a wry touch of humor with "Sunday Way Up Yonder." Suffice it to say that God's golfing divots can create some rather weighty and celestial concerns. "Dust-Bowl Don Quixote" is a wistful nod towards Woody Guthrie, among others.
"Things That Never Added Up To Me" is a flowing, charming love tune enmeshed in the covering of a sea song. The port of Valparaiso serves as a panacea throughout this song, which may be a first in the singer-songwriter tradition.
"The Queen Of Thieves" contains an unusual but honest admission. Grierson sings of the wicked lady after his heart:
...There I lay in slumber
til she stole my heart away..."
The Civil War and the forced separation of a young couple due to the conflict provides the background for "A Soldier and His Own True Love." Grierson takes a typical love ballad and elevates it with a beguiling bittersweetness.
"The Flowers of Auschwitz" ties the horrors of the concentration camps to both the savage torture and execution of Chilean poet Victo Jara, and the never-ending siege of Sarajavo in the 1990s. Grierson sings:
...and the song goes on forever if it's true
while tyrants rot like roses in the dark and bloody dew..."
His latest release, "A Candle For Durruti" is the more consistent and powerful of the two. "Rick Blaine Retires to Luckenbach, Texas To Cultivate The Middle Way" begins with the movie story line and then answers that burning question of where did the Humphrey Bogart character turn up after fleeing Casablanca. But what about Louie, the Claude Rains character? Next CD?
The mournful and, at times, harrowing "A Candle For Durruti" is Grierson at his very best. His knack for capturing and combining historical times, places, people and moods is uncanny. As the song relates, the best of ideas and ideals don't always triumph.
"The Rose Of Newfoundland" is an enchanting love song as if, as the liner notes indicate, Robert Burns himself returned to write one more discourse on amour. Enough said. Grierson's writing, singing and guitar playing cohesively amplify the emotional impact of this tune. "The Midshipman And The Maid" is performed a cappella and contains an unexpected but delicious 'trust but verify' rejoinder at song's conclusion.
Detailing a relationship with a beatific female higher power in the harmonica-driven "Our Lady, The Buddha," Grierson sings:
The gently melodic "High Noon In The Wasteland" runs the gamut from the Mona Lisa, to the Empress of the Nile, to Billie Holiday/Lady Day, to the Duke of Earl, among others, in a broad-stroke love song unlike any other you've ever heard.
"Jesus Loves The Working Folks" is a half-sung, half-spoken, Dylanesque-type talking blues tune. Quietly and humorously blasting heartless bill collectors (is there any other type?) and those who unfairly take advantage of others, Grierson winds his way through a woeful tale of repossession. The best part involves one Joe Bob Denton who, while in an outhouse "contemplating the aethestic subleties" of the lingerie section in the 1956 fall/winter edition of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, has his business unceremoniously interrupted by a flying human body. Clever, very clever.
A delicately sung spiritual, "Sisters Of The Road" is a humble, poignant tribute to all those who aid the weary and the broken and make this world a better place, small act by small act. This is a touching, impeccable choice to conclude this release.
If there is a clubhouse for artists with unconfinable imaginations, Grierson has his own corner table there. You'll probably find him swapping tales with his brethren, Jack Hardy, Pat Maloney and Dave Carter.
Grierson performs mostly with acoustic guitar and harmonica. However unplugged he is electrically, there's still a connection to some higher force that will transmit a spark to the listener. Give this erudite muse a moment or two and you'll be hooked.
So did I like these releases? Yeah.
"A Candle For Durruti":
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