The saying “effort matters” cannot be repeated enough, especially for a band’s debut album. Grumblewood understand this. More importantly, they executed this to a T throughout the complex songwriting.
Its many time signature changes, down to the presentation of the rustic storybook-inspired packaging layout of their debut album, Stories of Strangers. High praise worth giving, Grumblewood deserve it. The resurgence of interest in the old 1970s English hard rock groups isn’t anything new.
Still, a lot of emphasis and attention is given to bands in heavy metal. Grumblewood’s music leans towards the progressive and folk-rock world in the veins of Fairport Convention and Pentangle. However, there are traces of the heavy rock world in their songwriting with a few chord structures that strangely remind one of old Savoy Brown material, despite not one power chord used on this record.
However, the production aesthetic of Stories of Strangers highlights another ’70s-inspired band’s similar production method with Witchcraft’s 2004 Rise Above Records debut LP.
Grumblewood are from Wellington, New Zealand, and began in 2016 when Kiwi songwriter/bassist Morgan Jones and American songwriter/guitarist Salvatore Richichi met and discovered they share an admiration of ’70s, British, electric folk-rock. The two recruited fellow musicians Gav Bromfield (vocals/flute) and Phil Aldridge (drums) to round out the fold and build a small fan base in their area while writing the material for the record.
Richichi saw Grumblewood as an excellent project to record an LP entirely on analog tape machines given how era-specific the music is and their intentions to keep their writing in line with the genre’s peak era.
Stories of Strangers is a technical album and shows the quartet’s ability to combine jazz time signatures with Renaissance-era instruments and progressive chord structures over traditional, Irish jigs. “Castaways” is an excellent example of this, with Bromfield’s flute playing a lead instrument when the real highlight is the background of Richichi’s and Aldridge’s displaying multiple playing techniques while controlling the pace of the song as it moves through different tempos.
It’s worth saying directly, these four men are outstanding musicians and took their time. To back that statement up, “The Minstrel” is your proof due to the virtuoso performances displayed by Richichi’s guitarwork and Jones’s bass lines going through melodic folk progressions to jazz playing at the drop of a dime.
“Picturesque Postcard” is the most acoustic-heavy song in part to Bromfield’s guitar and Richichi’s mandolin pairing up in different passages, which gives off a Blackmore’s Night feel throughout the music minus Bromfield’s vocals. Suppose you listen closely to the title track’s highlight of the mandolin at 3:40. In that case, the instrument breaks into a medley rendition of “The Gael” from Dougie MacLean but, of course, made internationally famous as the main theme from the movie, The Last Of the Mohicans.
It’s only right that this album gets a vinyl LP release in the future. Stream Stories of Strangers in its entirety via Grumblewood’s Bandcamp, or pick up a copy of the album from their label, Gravity Dream Music.