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MP3 Jack Grace Band - The Martini Cowboy

Timeless weirdo country/rock that makes drinking and thinking fun. This music has celebrates the gloriful side of the down and out.

16 MP3 Songs
COUNTRY: Outlaw Country, ROCK: American Underground

CD review: The Jack Grace Band - The Martini Cowboy

They’ve been sort of the opening act du jour on the
country circuit, opening for Merle and Willie Nelson
and Jerry Lee, et al.. If this is an attempt to get some
notice from the retro country crowd, it ought to work.
Hell, this ought to get them on the Grand Old Opry, if
they don’t mind songs about cocaine at the Ryman

The Jack Grace Band’s last album I Like It Wrong put
in some serious overtime on some of the better
jukeboxes across the counry. In fact, you could say
that it was the party album of the summer of 2004,
Suffused in booze and tested live on crowds of drunks
in dives all over town, those songs were every smart
party animal’s alternative to Jimmy Buffett. It may
therefore come as some surprise that the new album by
the Jack Grace Band is an attempt to - gasp - make a
serious record. I say record because the cd is divided
into a distinct side 1 and side 2. A concept album, no
less, complete with little instrumental fragments
separating the songs, and something of a central,
unifying theme. The most surprising thing about it is
that it actually works. Tight, focused, thoughtfully
conceived, in other words, everything Grace’s previous
work was NOT. Which ironically was always his saving
grace - the band may have been a little loose, the
whiskey may have run rivers but you always knew that
if you went to see these guys live you would have a
good time. While it doesn’t look like anybody left the
bar for very long to make this album, it’s a hundred
eighty degrees from what you might expect after
hearing the last one. Is it possible that Grace has
actually matured?

The Martini Cowboy is packed with haunting, gorgeously
old–fashioned, 1960s style country songs with tasteful
electric guitar, soaring pedal steel, piano and a
rhythm section that swings like the dickens. You can
dance to this stuff more than you can Grace’s older
stuff. Because ultimately that’s why honkytonks exist:
where else can you squeeze your cheatin’ lover against
the jukebox and sway to the strains of Merle Haggard?
Who happens to be exactly who the first song, the
album’s title track, evokes. Straight up. When he’s on
top of his game Jack Grace’s songs sound like country
classics from 40 or 50 years ago. The cd’s second song
Broken Man continues in a purist vein, driven by Jon
Dryden’s beautiful, incisively minimal honkytonk piano
“I’m not gonna go out there tonight,” swears the
Martini Cowboy. He’s been burned too many times. Which
leads perfectly into the next song, Cry, a sexy bossa
beat and groovalicious bass player Daria Grace’s
bop-bop backing vocals only momentarily distracting
from its eerie minor-key drive and bitter lyrics. When
after a surprisingly jaunty, jazzy guitar solo the
thing stumbles out of its groove and literally falls
apart, the effect is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The album’s next track Trying to Get Away from Nothing
at All zooms in on our protagonist trying to pull
himself away from the brink. It’s a showcase for
Grace’s voice, a big, Johnny Cash style baritone that
can handle the over-the-top whiskey-drinking anthems
and the dark, disturbing ballads with equal aplomb.
After that song, we get Sugarbear, another minor-key
Waits-esque number with ambient steel guitar, and
Rotary Phone, arguably the album’s best song , a
haunting, skeletal minor-key blues: “Let me tell a
story about the way it used to be/With a rotary phone
don’t leave a message for me/You’re gonna be an old
man too…”

The last song of the “A side”, What I Drink and Who I
Meet at the Track (Is My Business) is completely
self-explanatory - it’s one of those songs that
someone should have written long ago, and that it took
this long before someone did is a mystery. It’s a good
thing that it was this guy who wrote it and not Neil
Sedaka. I mean, can you imagine Neil Sedaka at the
track? No, you can’t. He’d get killed before he got to
the stands.

The “B side” begins with Uncle Luther. By now, the
Martini Cowboy has fallen in love. His Uncle Luther is
moving back to the shack he hasn’t lived in for ten
years and the Martini Cowboy has to get out. But
that’s not what’s bugging him. It’s that he can’t stop
thinking about her. Yeah, her, and it scares the hell
out of him. The following tune, Verge of Happiness is
so George Jones it’s not funny, in fact it’s scary,
right down to the vocals. Nobody ever did desperate,
lost love songs better than Jones, anyway, so it makes
sense. Happy in the Fall continues in the No Show
Jones vein “I’m happy in the fall, but I don’t like
the landing,” Grace muses ruefully as the band swings
behind him. The album’s climactic track, Something to
Look Forward To - where the guy finally gets the girl
- is a bit of a letdown. Like at the end of Siddhartha
when the guy finally gets to India and all he finds
is…OMMMMM (hey, this is a serious album, I’m
trying to be serious about this).The cd concludes with a
real old-timey number called Spike Down, which sounds
like an electrified version of some obscure 19th
century folk blues.

There’s not a weak song on this album - which is more
impressive than you think. Hell, even Sergeant Pepper
had that stupid, phony raga tune that Harrison sang.
And Merle Haggard’s greatest hits albums all seem to
have those horrid pro-Vietnam War ditties he wrote
before he woke up and smelled the coffee. So the
Martini Cowboy’s in pretty good company. If this
doesn’t get him the big record deal (memo to the band
- WATCH YOUR BACK), Jack Grace can always fall back on
his side project Van Hayride, which plays country
covers of Van Halen songs. I’m not making this up. Not
a word.

People who are interested in Tom Waits Johnny Cash Neil Young should consider this download.
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