It's a lazy summer Sunday morning, and Charlene Grant's new CD, "That
Would Be Me" is going perfectly with the sunshine, warm breezes, my cup
of coffee - and the rumination over the complex interactions between men and
women that can often happen at the end of a long week in the trenches of modern
life. These tunes, with one exception written or co-written by Ms. Grant, support
this kind of introspection - indeed, at times Charlene seems like a wise neighbor
who has dropped in for brunch - to catch up, to tell stories, to offer her intimate
observations and advice.
The kind of wry social commentary Charlene offers up here is an often neglected
part of the modern songwriter's craft - particularly when it comes to the
loosely defined genre now called "the Blues." The attraction of the
Blues for many young folks, back when it first surfaced at the edges of mainstream
America back in the 1960's, was not limited to the fiery instrumental work and
powerhouse rhythms that have influenced so much of popular culture since. The
Blues, as delivered by artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Minnie,
B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith, Big Mamma Thornton, and by great
songwriters like Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed, had advice for us all about managing
the rapidly changing roles of men and women - and the seemingly eternal issues
lying just below the surface. Try as we might to wrestle sexual politics into
submission, the whole world just kept on (and keeps on) fightin' about that
same old thing.
The good news for men here is that Charlene takes a remarkably even-handed
approach - she seems to like men just fine, and she treats our foibles with
sympathy and understanding - to a point. The title tune, "That Would Be
Me," is an advertisement for herself that portrays Charlene as the perfect
woman for your typical slacker musician (and after decades of playing in bands
with us in Alaska, California and the Northwest, she certainly knows what band
guys want to hear).
"Who's gonna take care of ya, when you've been drinkin' too much
Who won't even wanna know, about everywhere that you've been?
Who won't try to change you, and just let you be yourself?
That would be me!"
As the old song by The Band goes, "A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one!"
No matter how lazy, selfish, or endlessly self-justifying a male you might be,
Charlene's there for you, pardner, right? Well... actually, no. There are definite
limits to her patience, as we find in "Life's Too Short", where we hear
that "all the time I wasted on you, I coulda had my own fun..." and
in the final analysis, "I've got better things to do, than to listen to a
fool like you!"
Her sharp wit is not reserved for men, however. In a song like "Don't
Try to Change Your Man," Charlene has advice for her sisters - and a warning
about the dangers of micromanagement (described as "making sure he's doing
things right - and doing it your way...")
"You say you really love him, there's just a few small things,
You're telling me you don't really like the way he acts sometimes,
And you think that you can change him, a little at a time...
Don't try to change your man..."
Independence comes at a price, though, and Charlene doesn't skip over
this part, either - as in "I'm not the one, that you're ever gonna choose,
I'm just the one with the Blues.." (with great stinging Albert Collins
style guitar by John Stephan).
One of my favorites on this rich collection is a take-off on Johnny Paycheck's
70's hit, "Take This Job and Shove It." It's a new, dangerous century
though, and the advice today is to try to love your job - while you still have
one. "Do you know how many people want to work in other lands?" Topical
commentary like this has always been a comfort to working people, and songs like
this are sorely needed today.
I don't have room to go tune-by-tune in this review - much as I want to - but
I hope you have a bit of the flavor. The music on this CD is uniformly excellent.
Charlene assembled a large group of friends for this project - and her friends
are among the finest area musicians, including co-producer, arranger and guitarist
John Stephan, our brilliant local treasure Brother Jack Cook on guitar and National
steel-bodied guitar, the great sax player John Firmin, the ubiquitous Greg Roberts
on mandolin, and an array of excellent drummers and bass players, including
Les Merrihew, Kevin Cook, John Lee, Guy Quintino, and Ms. Grant herself. Background
vocals on many tunes feature the strong voice of Ava Stephan, who mixes perfectly
with Charlene. John Marshall, Charlene's partner in crime from the New Orleans
flavored "Wild Rhododendrons," and a fine songwriter himself, shows
up as co-writer, lead vocal and harmonica on "Say the Word."
The music here really covers the waterfront, from the soulful funk of "The
Business of Love," to the cafe jazz of "Spark an Old Flame." This
is the kind of CD I keep looking for, year in and year out, and I rarely find
collections of songs this well crafted, this diverse, this funny, this smart and
this wholly satisfying - and it all comes from one talented woman - Awesome! Buy
it, and next Sunday morning , when you sit down with your coffee, invite Charlene
to join you. You will be a happier, and maybe even a better person for it. ...Mark