A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Sarah Umberger
Self-titled Judd Grossman is the third recording by this accomplished folk artist. It includes fine-spun, passionate originals and two covers that ought to appeal to any dedicated folk & acoustic music fan or collector, particularly but not only men. These are love songs, bursts of personal emotion, and life stories mostly written from a male point of view. Some of the tunes are "folk-rock" in style, in some cases reminiscent of Richard Thompson (particularly Cause I Feel Like It) or in one instance, a mellow Chris Isaak (the contest-winning James Dean). Others reminded me of poignant Nanci Griffith-like character/story ballads with a slight country flavor (This Town, Mountain of Trouble, Christmas Tree). Most tunes cross folk/rock/pop genres or blend styles. Come to My Village has a self-described "raging blues" quality, mixing formal blues elements with unusual lyrics and an odd folk-like chorus. Both Rita and Waterfalls have a nice upbeat "pop" folk-rock groove. A few are pure, old-fashioned folk songs (500 Miles, When It's Time).
Grossman's writing is quite good on selected songs, more stream-of-consciousness and harder to follow on others. His ear for tune-making is excellent and the instrumental production is also. Each song stands out with a lot of individual character. Moving along the track selection is a journey with plenty of variety. The problem for an artist of this level of development, it seems to me, is to have an outright hit the listener without a lot of time feels compelled to select for hearing again and again. Although I liked many of these songs, I didn't feel there was any one big hit here. James Dean lacks the intense drama and simple force of songs by Chris Isaak, admittedly a tough act to follow. Saying that, there are definitely selections that could be played with good results on radio stations serving a folk & acoustic music audience. Moderately aggressive/soft folk or folk-rock and pop styles are blended in individual songs and alternate from song to song, with an emphasis on the acoustic guitar and acoustic accompaniment. The cover of 500 Miles is beautiful, in large part due to Grossman's passionate, very believable and pleasant tenor voice, accompanied by female vocal harmonies. In a similar style, When It's Time is a really lovely, very moving lullaby type of folk song or hymn I found myself hearing in my head over any of the other songs when I was not listening to the recording. In such a simple acoustic setting, Grossman's voice really shines on this one and the harmonies with female vocals are particularly nice. The cover of Waterfalls is also a standout after a few listenings. Probably the individual listener will find their own favorite.
Well known recording artists Tim and Mollie O'Brien, on fiddle and vocals, Sally Van Meter, on dobro and lap steel, Matt Flinner on mandolin and mandola, John Magnie on accordion, drummer Larry Thompson, bassist Nick Johnson, percussionist Eric Robnett, and singers Celeste Krenz and Taylor Mesple round out the accomplished full folk band sound used on selected songs.
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Edited by Cynthia A. Harney