Grant Peeples: Pawnshop
This man’s a born writer, it just seems it took a while for him to get the bit between his teeth. According to the potted autobiography he’s got up on his website, which I’m prepared to take pretty much at face value despite the poetic sweep of his tale, it was a friends rendition of Bob Dylan songs that turned him onto the possibilities of songwriting. Many years of playing around with songwriting never really worked out for him, despite a successful comic song earning him a ticket to Nashville for a while. So he drifted away and only came back to it recently, on the point of turning 50.
Well I reckon it was worth the wait; he’s still writing comic songs but mostly they’re funny in the way that Dylan himself is funny – a mordant wit allied to a strong sense of the point he wants to make. He’s got a strong political awareness and he’s writing for the little guys downtrodden by the world in the rush for ever greater prosperity. Sometimes the music itself is used to disguise the point he’s making: the bluegrassy Jesus Was A Revolutionary, sounding like Appalachian gospel music, very determinedly makes the case for Jesus as proto-socialist – and that’s why he was killed. I don’t think I buy the equating of Jesus’ crucifixion with the use of the electric chair in modern America. America has ways of neutralising it’s radicals without resort to execution. People who end up in the electric chair, if they’re not actually victims of an injustice, are just bad guys who couldn’t afford a good enough lawyer.
That’s the only track that’s bluegrass-tinged. On other songs Grant and his adaptable bunch of players try out all sorts of sounds, from honky tonk to the smoky, jazzy rock of Searching For A Sign. This actually has the effect of giving the album as a whole greater depth and hidden pleasures to be revealed on greater familiarity. The weight of these songs, however, is in the lyrics; Leaving her Was Easy is a prime example. Sounding like bog-standard honky tonk sentimentality, closer listening reveals the jokes: “leaving her was easy – once she dumped all my stuff out in the yard”. There is a problem sometimes with songs like this: once they’ve revealed their surprise they tend not to bear much repeat listening, but there’s a great seriousness underlying Grant Peeple’s humour that’s worth paying attention to.
Grant’s voice is roughedged and gravelly and he’s certainly not the most musical of singers, but he varies his approach enough not to entirely bludgeon you and he’s got some girls stepping up to the mic occasioinally to sweeten the sound. There’s some really nice playing from his band, especially Lis Williamson and Kurt Johnston on the guitars. The guy is good, one of the best and most original writers I’ve come across in a while. And if you check out his website you absolutely must listen to his offering for a Florida State Song. Priceless.