CD Review – Chasing Grace “Chasing Grace II – Double CD Shine & Dust”
Another unexpected surprise greeted me one morning — who would ever have thought a band from Denmark would have Americana blood coursing through their veins and those veins were strung down the neck of a Danish guitar? Not me. But the opening track of this fine double CD has a blast of melodic harmonica to mark this powerful and catchy, clever exploration into a formidable roots music performance and later, a dash of their more pop melodic Traveling Wilbury’s-oriented magic. This is the difference between a cookies and pastries.
To not confuse listeners the CD is carefully separated into two distinct approaches that doesn’t compromise the quality whatsoever. The parts are: “Shine” and “Dust.” “Shine” begins with “Dear Diary” a splash of delicious sound with upfront harmonica and haunting fiddle – courtesy of Jane Clark — who I met through award-winning New Zealand-Australian country singer Donna Dean who utilized Jane’s fine fiddle throughout Donna’s new “Tyre Tracks and Broken Hearts” album and has since subsequently been nominated Best Country Album 2013 by New Zealand’s RIANZ – to be presented May 30th.
Jane Clark is featured on several of Chasing Grace’s tracks on this collection but her first appearance is on “Dear Diary.”
For clarity here is the track listing of each CD: Shine: Dear Diary / Home / Every Now and Then / Where Do I Get Out /Before the Night / The Gambler Song / Fly /Goodbye //// Dust: Mexico / My Heart Is a Hideaway / The Man I Should Have Been /Papermoon / When I’m Not Around / Riverside / Let It All Go /Deep and Low
This Danish band earned the prestigious position of releasing a double CD this time out called “II,” and it’s worth the journey through your ears. Especially since, the album is “designed” to explore two distinct genres. As mentioned, the first is “Shine,” featuring sensitive songs and the second “Dust,” – delving deeper into what we call Americana-Roots music.
The first track on the “Dust,” portion is the slow, mysterious “Mexico” that erupts like a little volcano with fiery fiddles and a hypnotically martial beat. It’s obvious from the vocals and arrangement that once Americana-Roots music gets into your soul it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. This is high octane artistry. Acoustic guitarist Michael Lund’s vocals are crystal clear, every lyric is understood and the voice exudes what matter singers do not possess – presence.
Just when you think it’s simply a rootsy track Andre Bak’s Mexican horns kick in with strength and Jane Clark’s magical fiddle supports the ghosts that float freely in this atmospheric tune. This was surprisingly good, a treat I never expected from musicians with this heritage.
“Home” follows with acoustic guitars and is a pensive ballad carefully constructed with just enough sadness and optimism. This is what those power-ballads by “hair” bands always aspire to but fall short with. There is no bombastic approach, there is just sincere romantic ingredients that European and Canadian songwriters seem to know how to write best of all. The vocals are not treated in any manner, it’s all low-key warmth and it’s conductivity is hard to ignore. If pop music is ear candy, then music like this is Godiva chocolate. It also attests to the fact that simple is best.
“My Heart Is a Hideaway,” starts with that old fashion fiddling that the American backwoods has made world famous. Thousands of miles away from Nashville and Appalachia and these musicians are so focused on their love for this music that it transcends where they are or where they’re from. It’s true – you can’t take the country out of a country boy or country-girl. Doesn’t matter that they are closer to the North Pole than Atlanta, Georgia. The feeling is evident, the talent is on the mark and most importantly, their feelings come through and penetrate your pores. This track features some real cool banjo picking. An excellent melody pushes this one along and before you know you it – you want to hit the replay button. This, I am told, is Chasing Grace’s first single to be released from the collection.
This new double album was outlined, as their press release mentions, on a desolate farm in Sweden, perfected in a West Zealand cottage and built on a solid foundation of their interpretations of American folk/country music. The added bonus? Scandinavian melancholia. I couldn’t agree more and it all works brilliantly.
“Every Now and Then,” is a quiet acoustic track with a typical storyline of sitting on a back porch – letting the day light fade away. A beautifully rendered recollection with sweet fiddle underpinning the wonderful melody. “In the back of my mind — I place the secrets I want to hide….” A place many of us have been I am sure. Sometimes when foreigners write English-lyrics they don’t get the nuances or the clichés but these lyrics couldn’t have been improved upon by anyone from Nashville. These are as perfect as you can compose – both as melody and lyrics and as a genuine country fable.
“The Man I Should Have Been,” is a little closer to a European flavored melody on acoustic guitar. It’s still a pertinent song but the influences are more continental than American. This doesn’t diminish the quality of the track, what it does in fact is exemplify how close Americana is to European folk songs. As many of know, much of the American folk tunes that are as old as the dirt itself came from Scotland, Ireland, England and many other countries. These were the settlers of the Americas in that mountainous region. We sometimes forget that there were many Nordic people there as well, Sweden, Netherlands, Danish, Holland – and they brought their folktales. No one knew who composed them – they just passed the music down to their children. This track sounds like what one would have sounded like pure – before the Americana mountains shaped it into a more rootsy song through the ages. That is my belief based on history. Michael Lund plays a 1938 Levin Acoustic Guitar on this track.
“Papermoon,” with its banjo picking and Traveling Wilburys style intro is infectious. Once it plants itself in your ears you’re going to want to dance with a chair or a broomstick. This is potent, filled with melodic vitamins. If ever there was music to get the sick up out of bed – this is strong contender. A real hot harmonica in this track and the vocals roll along like a cart pushed down a hill. Picking up speed throughout and then just abruptly ending and you have to catch your breath.
Founded in 2010 – Chasing Grace managed to squeeze out its first album by 2011 and that was followed by a successful tour with three single hits on Danish radio. Really? Major labels in the United States and Europe do not know what a wealth of talent they have out there if they would just listen. The band comprises of Michael Lund, lead guitar, Banjo and Vocals; Lars Rahbek Andresen (Keyboards); Johannes Gissel (Drums); Jesper Edvardsen (Fender Bass); Mikkel Grue (Lead Guitar, Mandolin, Lap steel, Pedal steel and Dobro); and the ever wonderful Jane Clark on Fiddle/Violin. This is a band worth seeking out and embracing.
Forget the Grammy Awards, Billboard Awards, the People’s Choice Awards – it’s bands like this made up of musicians with this talent that the majority of the world has not heard that are the true diamonds. The rest are talented but they are cubic zarconia. Not diamonds. They are marginal but far from the real deal: The Oysterband (with and without June Tabor), Spirit of the West, Great Big Sea, the BoDeans, Blue Rodeo, the Palladinos and a world filled with such musicians that turn out consistently great music, mesmerizing performances and music that sounds like it could last 75 years without aging. Because, we already know that Americana-Roots music – filtered through Appalachia or pure from the original countries – has already lasted that long.
“Where Do I Get Out?” starts with Mikkel Grue’s baritone guitar and little haunting sounds – a ticking clock? Lund’s vocals, again, are strong and this track is in many ways powerful. It has that strength that you don’t expect because it’s not obvious at first listen. Then, you listen to the lyric and how the instruments build and that persistent clock ticking hooks you. This now is a little beyond Americana in style.
This borders on Pink Floyd filtered through musicians with a folk music tradition. The lyrics match the tension in the melody and it’s the words that anchor the sadness in a manner that makes this — art. I say this because not every songwriter can write something with this kind of musical texture. There is a creativity going on here that is just not simply commercial. It resonates.
“Before the Night,” reminds me still — a little of the Traveling Wilburys. Nice Ringo Starr style drums, Lund is borderline Tom Petty here. This is as close to a pop song as I have heard from Chasing Grace and it’s not bad because they prove they can do this if they have to. This is a good guitar driven, understated, no big arrangements, no boastful theatrics tune. Just a steady beautifully sung ballad with overtones of Roy Orbison, Del Shannon mixed with that Wilbury approach. Toward the end Lund’s vocals are reminiscent of Jeff Lynne but always maintaining his own unique singing style.
“When I’m Around” continues the Wilbury exploration. This time, heavier with a John Lennon sounding piano front and center and I may add, even a Stackridge influence – if they even know who Stackridge is. It’s obvious that Chasing Grace is not a band that just whips songs together. Everything, despite its diversification, is thoroughly thought out and the application is careful. They don’t lose their focus and they are not over rehearsed. I admire how they seem to know when enough is enough. There is nothing over done in performance or production. My only criticism is that in earlier songs the banjo was a little buried in the mix – but, this track has upfront harmonica and Hammond organ that is so beautiful. This was a great effort. Very memorable to my ears and a favorite.
Ah, they must have heard me about that buried banjo because they make up for it on “Riverside.” Michael Lund’s banjo is crisp here, the vocals with a slight echo and the military drum banging along with excellent rock-oriented singing. The band has a bag of tricks for sure. How could anyone seeing these people live not be enthralled with their entertaining approach. There are so many sounds happening here and its delicious. It’s like experiencing French pastries for the first time after eating bland cookies. This is filled with cream and powered sugar. I love the vocal effects – it’s all surprising because they are showing an inventiveness that I haven’t heard since The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
“The Gambler Song,” slows the pace down with a somber lyric and churchy organ with brush strokes of cymbals making this one quite a compelling listen. I still hear John Lennon influences in places even though Lennon seldom used a Hammond organ – the guitar effects are a nice touch because this kind of experimentation gives what could be a plain track – lots of personality. If nothing else, this is a mood piece – lots of 60’s influences in the presentation but not trippy. Just reminders of how the bands of the 60’s were able to construct walls of sound and add a feel that often made their music memorable. Chasing Grace has done this here.
“Fly,” is not Americana – but, it has that retro-classic injection of energy in the many slices of sound that is featured liberally throughout. The acoustics, the heavy drums, the whining guitar and its resplendent in perfect build up to an explosive musical crescendo. This reminds me a little of Strawbs’ “Tomorrow,” which was quite a surprise for a basically old English folk band. “Fly,” is like scraping that flint until a flame erupts and it certainly does.
“Let It All Go,” simmers into a quiet reflective acoustic ballad with a duet or its multi-tracking. But, the dual voices are what makes this track an interesting listen. None of the instruments upstage and are all quietly potent in their support of Michael Lund’s impassioned performance. The guitars are all just mystifying.
“Deep and Low,” is crunchy and on this effort they mine that under-stated rock vein. Lund proves he has that all-American rock inflection down perfectly. Very nice guitar interplay with the other stringed instruments. I think the only thing missing here is an accordion. But, hell, this is still in the tradition of old style “devil came from Georgia” type ZZ Top fire. The ensemble playing is uniform and the recording is mixed very well. Everyone is asserting themselves without stepping on anyone’s toes. The melody sounds quite traditional and it just reeks of musicians who know how to make their instruments “speak” to each other. Lund has that JJ Cale, Tony Joe White swampy voice finely tuned.
“Goodbye,” opens with another lead vocal – much more pensive than Michael Lund – but, it still is Michael Lund who has managed to sing in an entirely different style and pitch with Mikkel Grue’s guitars floating over his voice sad and poignant. This type of song adds a new dimension to a band that has lots of muscle. This is restrained and focusing more on feeling than aggressiveness and they succeed. I could have heard Roy Orbison sing something like this. Obviously, the band on a whole, wears many musical hats and they are adept at wearing each confidently.
At this time I have not located a band website and there are other artists called Chasing Grace from other countries. This band is from Denmark. There is also excellent vintage looking CD artwork including lyrics and photography.
Denmark’s Chasing Grace CD is available at iTunes:
Previous albums: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/chasing-grace/id431512115
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.
John Apice / Contributor / No Depression / May 2013