After scoring “Best New Artist” and “Best Alternative Album” last year at the Grammy’s, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has produced another gem. This time, he’s rekindled a musical relationship with his former band mate Brian Moen and Phil Cook to form a blues rock trio. His newest project – The Shouting Matches – will surprise everyone.
Despite all the success he received from his former band’s synth-folk sound, Vernon has let his creative juices pool into a blues band with a nostalgic feel. This time, he’s decided to ditch that whispery folk voice we hear in Bon Iver, and demonstrate his blues roots with soulful vocals. Die hard Bon Iver fans (like myself) will be astounded to hear the vocal and instrumental difference between Bon Iver and Grownass Man.
The first track “Avery Hill” feels like an early Clapton hit spiked with Duane Allman. The guitar riff is reminiscent of an early Who track, and slides into feel-good blues tune. The organ work, earthy vocals, and upbeat drumming on the second track make it one of the best on the album. The raw guitar and unrefined vocals on the third track, “Heaven Knows,” is a little heavier. It’s just pure, unadulterated, thunderous blues. “Seven Sisters” is pleasantly upbeat, and “New Theme” is an inspiring, feel-good tune. “I’ll Be True” is sun-kissed and joyous.
The music isn’t overly polished, which makes it fundamentally bluesy, but some of the screeching guitar notes and Vernon’s work on the microphone give most of the songs a catchy feel. Unfortunately, the album itself isn’t entirely innovative or unique. It’s a simple, straightforward blues album that defines the term “easy listening.” Despite its concrete sound structure and laid back, whiskey soaked sounds, Grownass Man fails to break any musical barriers. I seriously doubt, however, that Vernon and his band mates had the intention of doing so.
The album as a whole is very fun, especially if you’re still stuck in the ’70s. Musically, its very well done and those who are musicians, or just have an affinity for blues, will fall in love with this album.
I like to think the album cover (and the title) does a lot to explain the mindset of the band members. They look relaxed and joyful. I like to think Vernon’s thought process did not have the intention of surprising anyone (although he most certainly did.) They’re not trying to make a statement (they’re “grownass” men, they can play the music they want to.) For those who find the album not to their liking, consider it that Vernon and his buddies may just be trying to have a good time. It certainly sounds like they did.