A review for Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Daniel Nestlerode
Judd Grossman is a one-dog man, the deepest form of dog person. His canine companion, Charlie (who looks a little like Petey from the Little Rascals), gets the dedication and graces the CD in photographic, cartoon and sonic representation. I'm not sure why, but if Charlie had been a cat I think that Grossman's devotion to his pet would have been a lot less cool. As it is, Hearts Like Mine is a very cool disc. Charlie's presence, along with the fact that Grossman uses only his voice and his guitar, serve to make it an extremely personal statement as well.
The sparse use of instrumentation follows the old "less is more" adage to great advantage and, in Grossman's case, the converse would also be true: "more" would be "less." Grossman's musical ideas are funky and complex when compared to most acoustic-guitar-toting singer/songwriters, and a full band might reduce his musical ideas to mush. Also, a band would infringe on the intensely personal nature of Grossman's songs.
Riffing adds a terrific sense of rhythm and motion to the compositions, and Grossman riffs his way through six of the fifteen songs ("Greedy," "Crime of the Century," "Poor Man's Heart," "Every Day," "On the Run"). Further, the funkiness of his riffing serves as an effective counterpoint to Grossman's more conventionally strummed tunes. The even distribution of the funkier songs throughout out the disc (2, 4, 8, 11, and 14) emphasizes the spaces between, giving the listener a break and making all of his songs easier to get into. In this way, Grossman gets to display his music writing skills to their best effect and show us his considerable chops as well.
If Grossman has a weak spot it's his lyrics. I noted that he has a habit of mixing metaphors, and he wanders from the topic of a song occasionally. "Real Love" is the disc's first cut and in the first verse Grossman changes from a football to a driving metaphor: "Time out from the big game/the blimp's flyin' over me/Put in my call to the fast lane/guess I'll just wait and see."
"Crime of the Century" has the virtue of a single metaphor, and would be a lyrically solid song except for the third and fourth verses. Grossman writes about the pain of lost love but he wanders off the subject from the second to the third verse, going from "She was my woman/Now she's got another man" to "Sometimes this town seems so small/I know 'em all, I know 'em all." These kind of weaknesses lead me to suspect that Grossman writes the music first and settles for lyrics that do a better job of fitting the rhythm of the song than conveying an idea.
However, in the quieter moments of the disc Grossman puts it all together. "Buried in the Dust" and "And I Pray" suffer from none of the criticisms mentioned above. In "Buried in the Dust," Grossman sticks to the single metaphor in the title but turns it from a cry of despair to a declaration of determination: "I'm buried in the dust/and I'm looking for the light/I've got a cloud on my left/and a crowd on my right/Just like the big hotel/where the people stay/I'm buried in the dust/and I won't go away." Grossman's use of this metaphor is effective and we find ourselves rooting for the family farmer to persevere under pressure from big corporations represented by "the big hotel."
In "And I Pray," there is no use of metaphor so there's nothing to mix, and he stays nailed to the topic. This is a song about the loneliness of trying to be a success in an industry that at its kindest is indifferent to real talent. When we hear Grossman's voice telling us he "came all the way from Jackson/just to play this Holiday Inn," it doesn't take much imagination to hear Grossman succumbing to a sense of futility. But the chorus provides hope to both the author and the listener because he's willing to work and "pray that I will make it good someday."
We're praying right along with you Judd Grossman. Oh, and give Charlie a scratch behind the ear for us.
[Edited by Shawn Linderman]
You can get your own copy of Judd Grossman's Hearts Like Mine by writing to
P.O. Box 3229 Jackson, Wyoming 83001 or calling (307) 739-1644.