A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Mark Horn
Al Grierson is a character - one of those people who seems to stand out in any room he enters - an erstwhile Utah Phillips. Grierson's recently released CD, Things That Never Added Up To Me, represents his collected musings. A more amusing and eminently hum-able collection would be hard to find.
This CD includes a touching song, "The Wild Dogs of Kitwanga," which is about the legend of Blackie and "how 'Old Three Legs' got his name." Other small stories include "The Queen of Thieves," the obligatory lost love song and "A Soldier and His Own True Love" the heartfelt proclamation of a young confederate soldier.
"Dust-Bowl Don Quixote" is a distillation of every depression era drifter image ever created. Reminiscent of a Woody Guthrie song about the Okies and of hobos bound for glory, this song is so touching and evocative of the plight of those displaced by weather and economics that it nearly crossed the line to character. Grierson's gentle voice and affection are too genuine for satire or even melodrama. The song is simply like sitting in a darkened theater watching young Henry Fonda in black and white.
The title cut is a moving collection of images, both familiar and disjointed - a love song that contains the musings of a wondering heart. Following on its heals is a anglo-celtic love anthem, "The Pride of the Border," that works as a type of false ending to the preceding work.
Grierson's songs are supremely familiar. If they were less crafted, these songs would seem like trite rip-offs. The care and skill imbued by the artist in each work allow the tunes to blend with and become part of the traditions from which they spring.
The production of Things That Never Added Up To Me is what many like to call disparagingly "sparse"- Al and his guitar. It occurs to me that anything more would be a lie. Grierson is a bard, someone that you would expect to see walk up on stage, open his guitar case and begin playing. A kind of intimacy that would be disrupted by any type of accompaniment.
These are folk songs, contemporary or not. They are a departure from the current trend toward clever, "edgy" tone poems. Grierson offers comfortable tunes with simple chord progressions: no pretense just warm touching stories. Put this CD in your player and I promise you will leave it in there for quite some time.
[Edited by Lee Rademacher (POMONOMO@aol.com)]