CD Review – William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up “The Great Recession”
This driving upbeat collection of topical tracks was a delight to listen to.
William Pilgrim is Ish Herring and PM Romero and my curiosity was tweaked when I saw the artwork which contained a Chicago-looking black bluesman with a fedora and a biker-type leather-dressed white dude with that air of cool from the 1950’s seated together. What kind of music could these two men possibly muster? Could these styles stand together?
Well, this collection was far from mediocre or formula style pop. It was some creative, push the envelope dark and sometimes optimistic sounding earthy music. Sometimes you need to trust the chef if you want to experience a new taste. This is music has lots of flavor.
As far as roots is concerned, I felt the roots – or influences — went deeper than most. It has roots in Americana, but they somehow wrapped themselves around a tree that once sprouted some Motown, funk, old school R&B and Rock. This roots music stuff is from the dirt, but these guys have developed sounds that are roots pushing throughthe dirt with determination and angst.
The first track “A Soldier’s Tale”had this wonderful, jumpy vocal interplay between the lead vocalist (a cross between Taj Mahal and Keb’Mo on first listen) and a female vocalist (no name indicated) who complimented his aggressive vocals perfectly. A good “hot” pairing.
The mix of tracks on this 9-song album goes from rollicking fuel injected hyper-kinetic soul to street ballad perfect in a smooth paced manner.
I found some songs arranged in a latter-day soul style from the late 60’s. “Be With Me,”has a little of this sentiment. The vocals are borderline Motown with an Americana feel if you could imagine such a thing.
While the vocals are soulful in that beloved retro style the music is very modern day roots and this mesh is relaxing and at times exhilarating. It’s actually a very well thought out plan – if it was a plan at all — or maybe it’s just luck that these gentlemen sound so well together. They do sound like their mining a vein of music largely forgotten that should have been further developed and they are single handedly doing so – and succeeding.
Blacks for the most part, in my opinion, have forsaken soul music for rap and what is being called R&B (but purists know R&B stands for rhythm and blues and this was the domain of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Etta James, not Mariah Carey and all her sound-a-likes). But, what I mean more seriously is this: I don’t hear any new Otis Redding’s, James Browns, Ray Charles’, Sam Cooks, Marvin Gayes, Four Tops, Temptations, Smokey Robinson’s or even Wilson Pickett’s. At least, I haven’t found any.
If they are out there please point them in my direction. Just don’t say Kanye West – the man has talent but he is not soul in the truest sense. I don’t like using words like hybrid.
But, this William Pilgrim collaboration has souland it’s performed in such a respectful way that there are lessons to be learned here.
“The Great Recession,”is a track that is sharp and despite its serious subject matter is uplifting by the sweet piano runs that are like veins of silver in the side of a mountain. Again, the vocals are reliably strong and these roots are firmly in its soul. It’s a marvelous marriage of vocals. At times it all sounds like these songs were born on a front porch in some rural town between swigs of whiskey and beef jerky. This track is bourbon fueled but when those angelic women start singing along at the end it takes on a gospel feel that is sincere and manages to get into your pores. Ish is brilliant on this track.
“About a Girl,”creeps in with a snake slithering bass line sweetened by Tony Joe White-type harmonica ghostly floating across its bluesy melody and it’s a real cool story song driven by pedal steel guitar and some superlative soul singing. All supported again by female redemption vocalizing. Those female vocals tingle. These men took a blue wire of blues, a white wire of roots and a black wire of soul and twisted them all together tightly into one long wire that is musically electrifying.
“Calling Caroline,” comes next with a crystal clear acoustic opening and the vocalist uses a more sincere approach. This is from the school of Marvin Gaye crossed with Keb’ Mo or Taj Mahal. I may also add that there are elements here that remind me of Arthur Lee – from that great 60’s band Love. Is that possible? It’s like a hamburger with bits of Reeses Pieces in it. (Don’t laugh, I heard that very hamburger is quite good). The production on this track is quite tight – considering how much is actually going on. I hear swishes of the percussionist, a slide guitar slinking through the melody, the bass solid and the vocalist smooth with thick soulful backup vocalists. Great late night song.
While much of this reminds me of 60’s and 70’s soul music – it still has that modern day feel that renders this effort quite creative and contemporary. This could come off as the black man’s answer to The Band.
“Beautiful” continues in the vein of The Band. Now I’m hearing violin and is that a clarinet? Excellent female vocal support surrounds the lead vocalist as usual in this truly inventive old timey roots song. This sounds as if William Pilgrim and company are having fun and it translates. They maintain that Philly soul sound on this one — but never to an intrusive degree. That would be impossible since they pepper their performance with fiddles and down home harmonizing. At times I thought this was a hat tip to the 5th Dimension and their incredible vocalizing – check —“Go Where You Want To Go”would be a good point of reference.
I guess if you were to put the 5th Dimension together with The Band you would find something shaping up to be William Pilgrim. But that’s just a theory.
“Race Car”– if you listen carefully, has some nice funky guitar working under the vocalist. This track reminds me of the best of Sly and the Family Stone, especially when their bassist Larry Graham – would use his classic deep bass vocal. The entire production sounds very Sly and the Family Stone and that is a compliment. If Sly was doing work this creative today maybe he wouldn’t be so AWOL in the music business. This is a great driving with the top down on the parkway song.
“Run,” brings William Pilgrim back down earth in a smoky soulful Wilson Pickett groove. Guitars drive like Steve Cropper and the notes start to drip like honey as the drummer bangs away steady and tight. Whew…you can just feel the sweat flowing – and while I say Wilson Pickett, I should also add that this song sounds like something the late-great Lou Rawls would consider singing with some full blown horns. This is an energizer song. Feeling down and depleted? Forget a cup of java filled with caffeine – put “Run,” on full blast and watch your energy level return. This certainly solidifies the fact that William Pilgrim has mastered the rootsy-soul music that has been sorely lacking in this industry. Excellent…excellent…excellent….
“Water When the Well Is Dry,”– has a steady in your face beat – vocalist is not Lou Rawls here, or Marvin Gaye, Taj Mahal or Keb Mo. This one is delivered with all the talent and power that William Pilgrim can package and with the delightful addition of a sultry female vocalist which renders this a wonderful signature tune. All the magic in their bag of tricks — displayed brilliantly here. This is a driving track, God-inspired or hell-bent — the show is owned by the two vocalists. Powerful and inspired.
Over-all, this is an album that’s an impressive collection of tracks by two men who absolutely know what they are doing whether they did take cues from the influences cited or not.
Just being able to replicate those artists intentionally or unintentionally and do it with such cleverness and style is applause from me. A job well done.
Some radio stations in the United States are giving this air time and deservedly so. This is ear candy to the ears of anyone who enjoys music from diverse sources as The Band, Wilson Pickett, Sly and the Family Stone and roots music.
This is sewn together brilliantly and the sound is fulfilling. I doubt you will find another group of musicians mining these many musical styles this diversely and successfully.
Much of what William Pilgrim is shaping here is similar to a long forgotten five star 1970’s album by Eugene McDaniels called: “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.”
This may have been the possible rootof the music and topics William Pilgrim is doing so excellently now.
But, I must also add, that William Pilgrim is creatively something worth experiencing for their own worth, style and sound. They may be using the same types of clay but they are shaping their own artistry from it. It’s a work that stands on its own merit and they have made it their own.
A sample video for the song “Farewell”is below:
Check their website for performance dates and where you can purchase their CD:
John Apice – For No Depression – November 23rd 2012