Sometimes old rockers need to give up chasing the dream. Thankfully, Grant Black never got that memo. The seasoned local duo — average age 48 — of singer/guitarist Josh Brooks and drummer Kent Blackmer drops its latest EP, Babylon, like an alt-blues textbook on the desks of skinny-jeans-wearing wannabes. Class is in session, kids. And, like most textbooks, this one will probably be ignored by the young folk. Their loss.
Brooks — who penned every note and lyric on the seven-song album — knows how to cajole a crunching hook from his axe and artfully weave it into a multisectioned, tastefully arranged tune. And he can really sing. You know the If-Jimi-Hendrix-and-Chris-Cornell-Had-a-Love-Child-Who-Was-Haunted-by-Kurt-Cobain’s-Ghost music-crit game? Yeah, enough said. The dude belongs in front of the mic.
Blackmer’s drumming is competent, if occasionally subdued. Given that they are technically a guitar/drum band — bass on the album comes courtesy of Brooks and multitracking — one might like to hear the skins beat with just a little more abandon. But it could just be the recording.
Actually, the only thing to criticize about Babylon is the overall sense of restraint that pervades the project. At times the two play like the mature adults they probably once feared becoming — afraid to wake the children or the neighbors. Like it is no longer cool to have the cops called because of the noise.
It isn’t until the last track, “I’ll Wait,” that Brooks seems to rediscover the unbridled angst that best fuels rock and roll. Over a coda that recalls much of Sub Pop’s 1990s output, the singer wails the refrain, “When I come / will you be ready? / will you be there? / will you be gone?” If the whole album was as uninhibited as these fleeting 30 seconds, jaded hipsters might sit up and take notice.
All the same, Babylon holds its own. The album’s title — and opening — track is a five-minute, dirty, blues-laced ramble across a diverse musical landscape of swing sections, breaks and a catchy chorus worth revisiting as many times as they do. “Black Widow” is an unflattering portrait of that man-eating variety of lover, while “Money” plays the social commentary role, with the singer bemoaning his cash-poor status and a tanking economy. It’s the stuff of classic rock, if grunge-infused blues was the new classic rock. Babylon may show glimpses of the duo’s middle age, but let’s hope Grant Black don’t ever put away the guitar amp or drum kit. This is a dream worth keeping alive.
Grant Black celebrate the release of their new EP at Bar Antidote in Vergennes this Saturday, June 18.