Sunday, June 4, 2017

Greta Gaines: “Tumbleweed” (2017) CD Review

Greta Gaines seems to be having an interesting career, from snowboard champion to television show host to actor to singer and songwriter. Of course, it’s just the music that we’re interested in here. (She’s also an activist for the legalization of marijuana, but more on that in a bit.) Greta Gaines released her first album in 1999, and has put out several CDs since then (for my fellow Grateful Dead fans, she covered “Sugaree” on her 2003 release, It Was Hot). Her newest, Tumbleweed, is a seven-song EP featuring all original material, written or co-written by Greta Gaines. In addition to lead vocals, Greta plays guitar on these tracks. Playing basically every other instrument is Eric Fritsch, who also mixed the CD, though there are guest musicians (including Bucky Baxter) on a few tracks. Greta Gaines is based in Nashville.

She opens the EP with its title track, “Tumbleweed,” an unusual and compelling song of innocence lost and reclaimed. Well, a desire to reclaim it, at any rate, looking back at an earlier time. “Tumbleweed, roll on back to me/Back to when our world was still sweet.” Ah, yes. I think a lot of us would like to go back to an earlier time, even just to last October. Remember that time, before the nation went sideways? Seems ages ago. There is a lot of passion in Greta’s vocal delivery. “I can’t believe you’re so far away/I miss your company every day.” The guitar at times reminds me of Neil Young with Crazy Horse. Bucky Baxter joins Greta on pedal steel, and Courtney Little provides backing vocals on this track.

“Tumbleweed” is followed by “Leo For Real,” which has kind of a cool, loose vibe, particularly in the drums. It also has something of an early rock style in the vocal line. “You do get higher than an astronaut/You never need to, but I gotta stop/Are you the Sun King or his evil twin?” Then “Only Lonely” has a mellower groove, and some good lyrics. The line that always stands out for me is “I don’t want to fight but I’m so good at it.” And the way she delivers it, her voice bittersweet but with a hint of playful bragging, is wonderful. Bucky Baxter adds some nice work on pedal steel, helping to make this one of my personal favorite tracks. (Bucky Baxter has played pedal steel with Bob Dylan and R.E.M., among others.) “You know you’re not the only lonely one/You know you’re not the only lonely face in the crowd/Singing along/Just want to jive and to belong/To someone.”

At the very beginning of “Begin Again,” Greta Gaines reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann (on the line “Like night and day, my friend”). This song has a raw power that overtakes you, and is another of the disc’s strongest tracks. “This is a temporary madness that you’re in/It feels like it’s over when it’s time to begin/Begin again, begin again.” Then “Sweet William” is more in the folk realm, and is one of my favorites, in part because of Ward Stout’s work on fiddle. But also this might be Greta Gaines’ best vocal performance on this disc. Courtney Little provides backing vocals on this track. This is a song that would feel at home on Dylan’s Desire album, and is one I love more and more.  It’s followed by “Heal Me,” also in the folk realm, and featuring another good vocal performance.

The CD concludes with “Light It Up” (it’s identified as a bonus track on the back of the CD case, but as this is the EP’s first release, I’m not sure how it qualifies as such), and this is where Greta Gaines’ activism in regard to marijuana laws comes in to play. All money raised from downloads of this song will go to the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Patients Out Of Time and Tennesseans United. It’s wonderful that we’ve seen quite a bit of progress in recent years regarding marijuana laws, but of course – like everything good about this country – that progress is now in danger because of the current administration. Ah, I certainly enjoyed some marijuana this week – at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, then at the Dead & Company shows. I need to share this song with some friends. This is closer to rock, and there is certainly some joy in this song’s delivery. This is the one track on the disc that Greta Graines wrote with someone else (L. Altman). “These green leaves helps me remember/What it means to be free/Let it grow/Earth and sky/Roll it up, let’s get so high/Strike a match, raise your cup/Just don’t tell us we can’t light it up.”

CD Track List
  1. Tumbleweed
  2. Leo For Real
  3. Only Lonely
  4. Begin Again
  5. Sweet William
  6. Heal Me
  7. Light It Up 
Tumbleweed is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017 on Big Air Records.

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