The Grey A - My Country (Ear to the Ground Review)
The facts: The Grey A is a band from Washington, DC, fronted by Grey Jacks, who used to be in the Murfreesboro, Tennessee-based band Glossary. The Grey A is releasing their debut album My Country on September 2. The album's recording took place in Middle Tennessee not too far from my hometown along the banks of Center Hill Lake, and many amazing Nashville players make appearances on this album, including William Tyler (Lambchop), Jimmy Matt Roland from Caitlin Rose's band, and even the Nashville Brass. Current The Grey A bassist Howard Rabach has been a supporter of this blog for about as long as anyone, and his band Ubiquity Machine were the runners up for the inaugural Band of the Year contest way back in 2011. He joined the band after the recording of the album, but he was kind enough to pass this along to me.
Here is what Ear to the Ground has to say:
"My Country Song" - The website of The Grey A boldly declares, “This is the new sound of a middle ground.” And this lead-off track is a gently expressed, but boldly stated manifesto from this middle ground. Soaring vocal with slightly fuzzy but ringing guitars. “My country’s fast asleep.” This first line is a simple statement that is hard to argue, but it continues: “And they don’t notice Higher Power as they beat/ The brains of anyone who guides the flow of capital with downward thoughts.” Ah, and now we see where this is going. An infectious groove, chiming keyboards, and glorious background vocals directs a stirring pop anthem of the people. The message turns inward as a call to unity with pointed warnings of the dangers of hate. The Nashville Brass add their sonic signature to a stirring bridge that leads back into a reprise of the opening of the song, which ends in a note of hopeful resignation.
"People Happy" - This track begins with a sharp acoustic guitar playing a countryish melody. The amazing vocals introduce a 21st Century highwayman who entertains with a virus. I understand this is the bill of goods so many of us have bought into in this day and age. Then the chorus kicks in...oh this glorious chorus. “People Happy everywhere I see.” It's such an upbeat and catchy chorus, this could be a song of the summer. We are all happy, right? “There’s people happier than me.” Right, because when I turn on Facebook, my newsfeed is literally filled with people whose lives are so much better than mine. They are more successful, take more trips, have cooler things, know cooler people… But is this real? Maybe the real message here is that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” can be a noble intention for an individual, but for a population it can be the tool of the few who tell us, “we’re handling everything”. The question of the song almost seems left for us all to answer: “Can I believe ‘em, do you believe ‘em, should you believe ‘em, can you believe?”
"Unusual as Usual" - Begins with thunderous bass/guitar line that runs counter to the previous tracks. This track’s insistent intensity drives a strong-minded message that seems to suggest blending in as a way of making real change from within a twisted and broken system. It's about playing a part -- with eyes wide open to the lies being told to our faces and the theft going on right underneath our noses. Hidden in plain sight, as it were, by the blandness and ordinariness of it all. Truthfully, I don’t know if I completely understand this song, but I got something out of it. And, as with the rest of the album so far, it is so infectious and enjoyable, it’s like a really great teacher who imparts wisdom in an engaging way, and you listen, you soak it in, and you trust that even if every meaning and truth is not clear today, it’s all going in to be processed later, as you go on through your life.
"Dumb Fool" - A funky, sultry indictment of present day American electoral processes. The hopeful resignation I mentioned in the opening track -- maybe it’s resigned hopefulness. Whatever it is, the tension it creates is what makes this music so powerful. It’s a tension I know all too well when I look out at the state of our country and our world. At times, I feel moved to some kind of action, and at times it all seems so pointless… And this conflict doesn’t necessarily get wrapped up in a 30-minute sitcom storyline or in a 3-minute pop song. I think that’s okay. As long as we acknowledge and continue the conflict, we can maintain the thread of hope, even if it is tempered at times by a sense of resignation.
"Until They Find Us" - I really like this track. It begins by suggesting a pause button on politics. The music is powerful. The lyrics seem to suggest the covert rebellion hinted at earlier in the album. The words, “You know I don’t think we’ll be emancipated,” are sung with confidence, as if they were saying the opposite. As in, there's a certain type of freedom in knowing that no knight in shining armor is going to show up on his white steed and lead us to freedom.
"It’s All Been Done" - This is a brief song. Water is rising and when we try to offer a warning, we are told that it has all been done before. Perhaps this song is an intro to the next song…
"Swimming New Orleans" - This may be the standout track of the whole album. A funeral procession, New Orleans-style, for the post-climate change era. A vision of the city of grand wickedness submerged by rising waters. Yet, like a New Orleans funeral, there is this joyful exuberant hope of building a new New Orleans. I have a spiritual connection to the city of New Orleans, and to me this track really captures that spirit.
"Dead Mans Cause" - “I call on on my citizens…” This slow but strong track is a call to arms of sorts. What I take from the line that we all have faults is a continuation of the message of the collective power of a group of broken, imperfect citizens united behind a noble purpose.
"In Remembrance" - This is another short song, with the Nashville Brass adding a powerful jazzy underscore to an appropriately somber instrumental.
"Tree of Evolution" - One of my favorite songs. Wow! This is an extremely groovy song that I find it almost impossible not to move to. It's also a thorough and effective explanation and defense of the theory of evolution -- all in about 3:45. I love it!
"Twin Void" - This is a necessary come-down, musicially speaking. It's a slow song, and I’m just going to flat out admit, I don’t think I caught the meaning behind this song. Are the twin boys and twin girls metaphors? Underneath the shine, something lacks the glow. Maybe it’s about resisting the temptation to fall for surface images that belie the twin voids of the title. I think I will keep listening.
"The Bomb Stops Ticking" - The album ends with a stirring and gorgeous ballad to the “end of the human race”. The utter hopelessness of the line, “No one’s listening and the bomb stops ticking and we’re gone,” is offset by a subtle yet sure sense that maybe just maybe we still have time to wake up and start listening, and diffuse this course which seems so inevitable.
My Country by The Grey A stands apart from much of the music being made and played today. It is not cheery optimism and it is not nihilism. I don’t know if "hopeful resignation" (my words) is even an accurate representation, but those words kept coming back to me as I listened. This is not disposable “pop music”, but in the best sense of the word this is pop music. It is meant for repeated listening and maybe an open-minded willingness to have one's mind changed, even about the meaning of these songs.
Is my review a fair and accurate accessment of this album? Probably not. If I reviewed it again tomorrow or next week, I may hear something else, and that’s a good thing. I strongly recommend buying this album. You can Pre-order and get a t-shirt for $5.00 off by visiting The Grey A website.
The Grey A will be hitting the road in support of My Country, and if they come your way, I recommend you check them out. I will be there September 12 when they play The Stone Fox in Nashville. I'm looking forward to finally meeting Howard, and there are rumors that some of the guests from the album may make an appearance. I don’t know any details but The Stone Fox is co-owned by William Tyler… Glossary and an acoustic duo of members of Glossary will be opening.