That the crossroads of country, folk, Americana, rock, and MOR have at long last been reached is being increasingly shown in releases like this one. Josh Grider achieves a truly solid synthesis nailed down by earnest singing and catchily grassroots compositions. With his voice very much the center of attention in an excellently recorded disc, a confident mellow backing band his platform alongside a deceptively breezy sense of arrangement, Grider reminds me of a sectarian Wes King, a rougher Harry Chapin, a gritty Rick Nelson, or a more serious Pat McGee.
All those adjectives will alert the perceptive reader that this gent isn't easily caged in a trite reference. His music has a glow despite the many searching questions and perplexing problems addressed in the lyrics. Grider's baseline forte is folk, but there's a healthy dose of country blues in there as well, along with rock, a dash of jazz, and some light funk (all of which fails only once, briefly, in Sometimes, where the repeating background of someone persistently braying "Yeah, whoo!" gets somewhat annoying) carrying a groove that quickly climbs into your blood and forebrain, sometimes eliciting a bit of seat dancing, especially during Love Went Wrong, other times provoking a good deal of thought and reminiscence.
Grider couldn't possibly have found a better production/engineering unit than his very own keyboardist/accompanying guitarist Mark Addison, who turns in a refreshing, airy, bouncy, clear, and perfectly balanced document. I haven't heard lead vocals this superlatively matrixed for quite a while, especially with all the other aspects tucked in as natural extensions. Every one of the band members is a multi-instrumentalist, and their backing vocals are tantalizing, just enough to lean you forward in your seat while sufficently spare to have you wanting more, never crowding things, a cooling atmosphere and the sweet edge to the pain in cuts like the killer ballad Again, a song I suspect Jackson Browne is going to wish he'd written…everything about it is classic.
Probably the best comparative I can think of is that Josh Grider reminds me of a young Chris Smither (here), imbued with an authenticity that recruited legendary Texan Walt Wilkins to co-write a tune with him. Though Grider takes various avenues during the course of Sweet Road to Life, there's a quiet intensity to his center that will guide him well through the years, continually ripening.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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