Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Al Goldberg
What do Bob Dylan, Skip James, Emmylou Harris, Nick Brignola and Grainbelt have in common? As of March 10, 2012, they all have played to appreciative audiences with good taste in music at Caffe Lena.
Grainbelt’s debut was a long time coming, but it was sure worth the wait. Playing two sets before a sold-out crowd to promote their excellent new CD (or “SP”), “A Distant Sound” (Kranepool Records), the quintet led by singer-raconteur Howard Glassman, Delmar’s own “song and dance man,” was in top form.
Drawing inspiration from Buck Owens and Gram Parsons to Merle Haggard and Jason & the Scorchers, Grainbelt plays music for those who never think twice about rolling up their sleeves in good times or bad. Restlessness pervaded the first few songs – “Darlene” featured a plaintive vocal from Glassman about a romance spanning coast to coast; “Dunedin”, a guitar-driven track from the new release, depicted the longing to pull up one’s stakes.
The steel guitar of Roger Noyes underscored the fine lyrics of “A Little Faith Goes a Long Way,” while Jason “El Scorcho” Hughes lived up to his nickname, dropping terse, melodic solos like they were lit matches throughout “The Ballad of Sled.” Chris Blackwell traded his bass for Hughes’ guitar to deliver “Kansas,” the story of an itinerant, hapless figure who wouldn’t sound out of place in Neil Young’s universe. A trio of new songs, “Violin,” “Send Me a Postcard” and “Come to Happiness” sounded right at home in the coffeehouse, with some fine drumming by Jimmy Kaufman driving the band. Closing the first set with a rollicking “You Meet the Nicest People on the Road/On the Road,” Grainbelt was just getting warmed up.
After a short intermission, the group came back to hoots and hollers from the crowd. “Stood Up” came from the beloved Figgs catalogue, perhaps prompted by Glassman’s recollection of an open mic night 15 years ago with Guy Lyons. “I’ve Got the Hair of the Dog,” even played at a sub-Garden Grille volume, still generated heat and just may be the only song ever written to extol the merits of Stroh’s beer. “In for a Penny” and “Cecil King” brimmed with country swagger, and “Julie Sasso Holiday Weekend” was dedicated to the band’s friend in the audience.
Another friend in the audience called repeatedly for “Towncar,” and the band – with special guest Aaron Smith (of Scientific Maps) on backing vocals – obliged. Closing out the night, the band rocked the crowd, only letting up briefly mid-song to let a visibly moved but ever wry Glassman to quip: “Those that didn’t show up tonight? Delmar’s mafia is going to get them!”
Joel Patterson’s review and video at Nippertown
GRAINBELT SET LIST
A Little Faith Goes a Long Way
The Ballad of Sled
Send Me a Postcard
Come to Happiness
You Meet the Nicest People on the Road/On the Road
Stood Up (the Figgs)
I’ve Got the Hair of the Dog (Green on Red)
In for a Penny
Julie Sasso Holiday Weekend
From an Old Bottle
The Drugs Don’t Seem to Be Working
My Friend Ringo (Charlie Chesterman)
Come on and Hold Me