Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sid Griffin: “The Trick Is To Breathe” (2014) CD Review

Sid Griffin is known for his work with the Long Ryders and as founder of the Coal Porters (the latter band having most recently released Find The One in 2012.) But he’s also released a few solo albums, including 2005’s As Certain As Sunrise. His newest release, The Trick Is To Breathe, contains mostly original material, the exception being an excellent rendition of “Get Together.” Sid Griffin has gathered some seriously talented musicians to help out on this CD, including Justin Moses and Sierra Hull. There is one instrumental track, “Front Porch Fandango.”

The Trick Is To Breathe opens with “Ode To Bobbie Gentry,” a good country folk tune about Bobbie Gentry leaving the spotlight. It’s told from her perspective in a style similar to hers, the title of course reminding us of her most famous tune, “Ode To Billy Joe.” “It seems like no one ever comes to no good in the showbiz world/I miss the Mississippi and me laughing as a little girl.” I really like these lines: “Look at me, I got it all, but oh lord, what now?/When you get what you wish for, you’d better not complain/Success is awfully costly, but it surely ought to hide my pain.”

Sid Griffin follows that with “Blue Yodel No. 12 & 35,” the song’s title being a combination of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” series and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35,” and reflecting the vocal approach to this fun tune. This track has some delicious bluegrass elements, including some excellent work by Sierra Hull on mandolin and Justin Moses on banjo. There are also some fun, goofy lyrics, like these: “They say it takes two to tango/So chew on this big mango/Don’t give me no boo hoo hoo/You’ve had so many lovers hiding under your covers/I knew that we were through.” (The liner notes give the line as “So bite on my big mango,” which I like even more.) (By the way, Jimmie Rodgers did have a song titled “Blue Yodel No. 12,” but I don’t think he had one titled “Blue Yodel No. 35.”)  Sid Griffin ventures into Dylan territory again on “We’ve Run Out Of Road.”

“Circle Bar” is a mellower, sadder, more pensive tune, and is one of my favorites. According to Sid Griffin’s liner notes, he wrote this for the Long Ryders when he thought they were to re-unite. It’s about getting older, the changes, the losses. Here is a taste of the excellent lyrics: “We watched a steamboat turn upstream, and you never did come back/And then one Sunday morning across a market floor/I saw you walking hand in hand, and felt alone once more.” I also love this line: “My endless youth is ended now, these new days seem so tame.”

Sid Griffin includes a couple of songs about war told from the perspective of soldiers. The first, “Between The General & The Grave,” takes place in World War I, and the second, “Everywhere,” during World War II. Both are really good songs. “Everywhere” tells the story of a young man who is friends with a Japanese man before Pearl Harbor is bombed. I particularly like the chorus: “Over here, over there/It’s the same everywhere/A young boy cries out for his momma/Before he dies for his home.” This song was co-written by Greg Trooper and Sid Griffin, and Sid included a live version of it on Worldwide Live 1997-2002, while it became the title track of Greg Trooper’s 1992 album. Billy Bragg did a really good version of this song on his 1991 release Don’t Try This At Home.

The CD’s only cover is a bluegrass version of “Get Together,” a song that is most often associated with The Youngbloods, who had a hit with it in 1967. This excellent rendition is sung with an earnestness that is needed for this song to work. This is no nostalgic trip, but feels current, as if Sid and his group of musicians wrote it. This is one of the best renditions of this song I’ve heard. “Get Together” was written by Chet Powers (also known as Dino Valenti), later a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service.

“Who’s Got A Broken Heart” is a sweet and sad folk tune about someone after the end of the relationship, with lines like “The good which should be in goodbye/Is summoned by the softest sigh/Now who, who’s got a broken heart.” This is one of the strongest tracks, and features some nice work on strings by David Henry.

The only track I could do without is “Punk Rock Club.” It’s a spoken word piece, collecting things said by audience members at a punk concert. Something about the slow, pointed delivery irritates me. And it really breaks up the flow of the album.

This CD ends with “I’ll Forget You Very Well,” a good, brisk bluegrass tune with a cute Beatles reference.

CD Track List

  1. Ode To Bobbie Gentry
  2. Blue Yodel No. 12 & 35
  3. Circle Bar
  4. Between The General & The Grave
  5. Elvis Presley Calls His Mother After The Ed Sullivan Show
  6. Everywhere
  7. Get Together
  8. Front Porch Fandango
  9. Punk Rock Club
  10. Who’s Got A Broken Heart
  11. We’ve Run Out Of Road
  12. I’ll Forget You Very Well


Musicians performing on this album include Sid Griffin on vocals, guitar, 12-string guitar, and mandolin; Sierra Hull on mandolin; Justin Moses on banjo, fiddle and dobro; Mark Fain on bass; Paul Griffith on drums and percussion; and James T. Brown on backing vocals. David Henry does the string arrangement on “Who’s Got A Broken Heart.”

The Trick Is To Breathe was released on September 16, 2014 on Prima Records.

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