Saturday, March 25, 2023

Kris Gruen: “Welcome Farewell” (2021) CD Review

Kris Gruen is a singer and songwriter based in Vermont. His 2021 release, Welcome Farewell, features mostly original material, songs that reflect the spirit of his surroundings, with a laid-back vibe. Some of the songs on this album deal with memory, including the album’s sole cover. Joining Kris Gruen on this release are Rob Morse on upright bass, Randy Schrager on drums and percussion, Paul Casanova on electric guitar, Charles Newman on piano and keyboards, Jack McLoughlin on pedal steel and lap steel, Probyn Gregory on French horn and trumpet, Butch Norton on percussion, and Charlie Rauh on acoustic guitar, along with a few guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Water Into Wine” which has a gentle and sweet folk vibe, and features some nice touches on steel guitar. This track has a positive bent, with lines like “You’ve opened up, yeah, you’ve climbed on out/From the frightened introversion and self-doubt/Feelin’ stronger now inside your skin.” I like Kris Gruen’s friendly, compassionate vocal delivery. Then “When She Says” begins with vocals and acoustic guitar, the other musicians coming in on the first chorus. This one has a positive feel to it as well. The line that stands out to me is “We’re makin’ it through, takin’ it day by day,” something we need to keep in mind in these tough and strange days. Sometimes it can be easy to be overwhelmed by everything that is demanded of us, and everything that wants to crowd in on us from the outside. Toward the end of the track, Kris Gruen repeats, “Takin’ it day by day,” seeming to remind himself as well as us.

He then takes a different vocal approach to “Nothing In The World.” This one has a much stronger sense of rhythm, in the music and also in his vocal line. “I’ve been waiting my whole life, my whole life/To live a daydream for free now, live a daydream for free/Freedom comes at a high price, high price/Nothing in the world for free, baby, no, nothing in the world for free.” The energy increases toward the end, and he belts out some of the lines. There is then a sweeter vocal delivery to “Skyline Drive,” a pretty song with a gentle folk sound, a song of memory. Check out these lines: “I called your old phone number just to hear you one last time/Then I hung up on that old machine like an addiction hot line/Tomorrow it’s just a detour, so today I’m looking back.” This line is also interesting: “It’s time I trade my worry in for faith.” Sometimes worry can be all-encompassing, and if you can replace it with confidence, you are well on your way to a better place, I suppose.

“When I’m Down” has a more intimate feel when it begins, his vocals supported by bass. It is interesting that after he sings, “it’s going to be okay now,” the song takes on a sadder tone, with that steel guitar. Gerald Menke plays pedal steel on this one. This is a song of pain and hope, and it is one of my personal favorites, in part because of his passionate delivery. “God bless the terrible things we do” is another line that stands out. There is something beautiful about this song. That’s followed by “Pictures Of.” The energy of the guitar as this song starts reminds me a bit of Cat Stevens. There is joy and hope here, and perhaps even pride. “And take a picture of your childhood/And the ones you love from the neighborhood/Then rise above, ‘cause you know you should/I think we’ve done the very best we could.”

“Apple Tree” is a sweet song that seems to want to rock you gently in its arms. And it features banjo, adding to its cheerful aspect, even though this too is a song of memory, of someone who is now gone. “She said/Lay me in the ground just like a seed/I’ll shelter over family/In the leaves of your apple tree.” This song allowed me a good cry. “They say death/Is just a door through which we leave/The chapters of our reverie/As a hero in a daydream.” JR Linaberry plays banjo on this one, and JJ Beck is on piano. That’s followed by “The Painter,” which features some nice percussion. And Colin McCaffrey plays mandolin on this track. I also love that gorgeous work on horn. The album concludes with its only cover, a rendition of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory.” This rendition is gentler, more intimate, and sadder, and works incredibly well. Michael Flynn joins him on piano and backing vocals.

CD Track List

  1. Water Into Wine
  2. When She Says
  3. Nothing In The World
  4. Skyline Drive
  5. When I’m Down
  6. Pictures Of
  7. Apple Tree
  8. The Painter
  9. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

Welcome Farewell was released on September 24, 2021.

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