By virtue of their retro-infused soul arrangements and clearly nostalgic musical stylings, Idiot Grins’ Big Man ought to be a breath of fresh air in a diluted genre. However, the sophomore release from the bay area group faces something of a slump altogether. Genuine rhythm and blues attributing its sound to something nearly half a century old is hard to come by and even more difficult to create unless one is Sam Moore himself.
The proficiency of musicianship on Big Man is undeniably present from the opening notes of “How To Get To (Baltimore)” to the ending rattle of “Sour Man.” In fact, had Big Man produced some tracks reminiscent of Weather Report. It’s fully evident the band could produce some funky, elastic instrumental pieces to serve as a palette cleanser between some of the heavy-handed ballads. The matter of fact is that it’s difficult to get behind the vocals provided by the Grin’s John Hansen. By imitating something close to Chris Cornell and other times leaning towards Roland Bautista.
Still, it’s not hard to get a real kick out of the lyricism as well – emulating the kitschy and jocular tribulations of 60’s soul and R&B. Emphasizing the chorus of “baby’s” and elongated wailings from Hansen with some expert horn jabs is downright fun.
The second half of the album picks up quite a bit, despite becoming something of a country album and abandoning the rhythm and blues bag almost entirely. Though, it’s entirely enticing to hear where Idiot Grins is taking the next track. The predictability factor that plagues nearly every secondary release went out the window, with an honest-to-God gripping flow. Where the album would land next was anyone’s guess and everyone’s gain. Recorded on Stax equipment and utilizing one of Gram Parsons guitars for recording, Idiot Grins certainly never abandoned the moniker of retro soul rockers.
Praise has to be laid upon a group so clearly celebrating our soul forefathers before us. It’s not often one finds a group whose métier may simply be categorized as “reverence.”
Album Grade: 4 out 5 stars