Grayson Capps is not just a seriously good songwriter if one who has relied quite heavily at times on the exaggerated color of deep-south character sketches he’s also an entertainer of the rarest sort: a master of variety, humor and engaging storytelling who manages to seem warm and familiar and larger-than-life at the same time. (In point of fact, he majored in theater at Tulane, which explains a lot.)
Anyone who has seen Capps live already knows his theatrical strengths. Rott ‘N’ Roll, his fourth album for Hyena Records, helps drives those strengths home. It lacks the epic stories he tells onstage to introduce songs and let the audience in on his characters’ eccentricities; including those would have made this a two-disc set. But it’s by far his most varied offering to date, with country (of shuffle, ballad and rockabilly varieties), boozy sing-alongs, slow-burning R&B, hill country blues, ferocious rock, and even spoken-word poetry. The Stumpknockers, his backing crew, are in fine, ragged-edged, bar-band form.
Capps’ sense of humor shows. He can be joyfully coarse (as in “Big Ole Woman”, a new take on an old blues theme) or grin at the thought of behaving badly (as he does during “Psychic Channel Blues”). The poem here “Fear Fruit Bearing Tree” comes off as a dramatic, philosophical moment, but it’s immediately followed by “Sock Monkey”, a rock ‘n’ roll number centered on the lyrics, “Sock monkey, X’s for eyes.” That’s clearly the work of someone who takes himself just seriously enough.