Charlene Grant
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Charlene Grant

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As much as I love getting great discs from my favorite Blues/Zydeco artist, I have to admit my greatest thrill is having a CD come in from some ‘unknown’ (to us) artist and have it totally shake up my world. When I put this CD on, the only thing I had to go on was that Seattle-based John Stephan, a very talented and wise veteran of the music wars, said, “Oh yeah, there’s this woman here in Seattle who’s got a new CD out…Charlene Grant…it’s pretty good…but then I co-produced it.” Well, the CD arrived a week later and I must say that I am floored by Charlene Grant’s talents: singer-songwriter, bassist, arranger and producer – wow! This woman is a total multi tasker, but what is most impressive is that each talent she displays is at a level few can compete with. I was so amazed that by the third song I was on the phone to her to congratulate her. I was stunned to find out that this was her debut disc! Seldom had I heard (in over 35 years) a debut disc with this much verve, charisma, entertainment power and overall talent. This woman has just kicked the door open to a career as a top-flight world stage entertainer. She has given us a disc that crosses all genre boundaries and will definitely garner major radio airplay, not just on Blues shows, but Rock, Pop and Folk as well. You cannot pigeonhole this woman’s music into a specific category as she incorporates so much into her sound and that’s a good thing. This fantastic collection of witty, engaging and totally enjoyable tunes will appeal to all who cherish true talent and Real Music. I can see several tracks becoming favorites with deejays and audiences alike, as Charlene knows how to convey (with humor) her observations on life and human quirks. She took a unique and very smart approach to production/recording as she told me, “I wanted to build each song separately with a different combination of musicians instead of having just one band play on everything and I think it came out okay.” Okay? It’s a bloody masterpiece! I won’t try to restrain or control my unbridled enthusiasm or astonishment on this one. Charlene Grant is an amazing talent, plain and simple, and if she has the ability to get this disc distributed and promoted and into the hands (and ears) of the many people that can make a difference then she will have both a big selling CD and songs getting mega exposure. I can see virtually everyone over-thirty, who appreciates great music, digging this diverse collection.
Anyhow, enough gushing…the opening track, “The Business of Love”, tells you right off the top that we’re dealing with a one-of-a-kind talent. Check this: “You give all your money, your soul and your heart, and you’re out of business if it all falls apart…that’s the business, the business of love…” The level of musicianship is way up there, actually the performances and arrangements are far better than 99% of the big label releases that I hear these days. With John Firmin (‘Johnny Nocturne’) on saxes, John Stephan (guitar), Andrew Larsen (Hammond B-3), Charlene (bass), Kevin Cook (drums) and killer background chorus from Charlene and Ava Stephan, we end up with a perfect track. Hit song potential here. (I see a video.) “That Would Be Me” opens with Joel Foy’s unique guitar sound and lots of piano tinklin’ from Eric ‘Two Scoops’ Moore, the dean of Seattle Boogie-Woogie. “Train Wreck”, a relationship song, features absolutely wild slide guitar from John Stephan (his solo is unbelievable) and again Charlene delivers the goods. “Life’s Too Short” is an ode to a self-centered partner (ex-partner?) that is pure poetry. Grant should be, by rights, making a good living from her songwriting and she’s also a fine vocalist and bassist: all of which stand out on this song… “Well, I blocked your telephone number so when you find out you can’t get through you’re gonna show up on my doorstep sayin’ I got to talk to you…” all riding on top of a sexy, funky groove with throbbing bass and swirling B-3 and those super background vocals and horn arrangements. Another hit. “Ever Since My Baby’s Been Gone” starts off with goodtime accordion (Hugh Sutton) and it’s the only non-original of the 12 tracks. Charlene delivers a tongue-in-cheek vocal full of histrionics and it’s a whole lot of fun. “Don’t Try and Change Your Man” is a hoot thanks to Grant’s observations (or experiences!). Really nice pickin’ on acoustic guitar (Stephan), National (Foy) and Greg Roberts on mandolin. “Say the Word”, a duet with classy harpman John Marshall, is a snappy and very danceable ditty. Marshall’s harmonica work is sublime. Nice use of maracas too! “Spark an Old Flame” is a masterpiece of love rekindled. Wonderful stuff and again I see this one having mucho radio potential. “Theory of Laundry” is another relationship analysis (with much humor) on the decline of relationships: “Give him all you got, but don’t do his laundry…pick up the dry cleanin’, just don’t pick up the socks…”. Charlen - Real Blues Magazine

"CHARLENE GRANT - That Would Be Me"

It's a lazy summer Sunday morning, and Charlene Grant's new CD, "That Would Be Me" is going perfectly with the sunshine, warm breezes, my cup of coffee - and the rumination over the complex interactions between men and women that can often happen at the end of a long week in the trenches of modern life. These tunes, with one exception written or co-written by Ms. Grant, support this kind of introspection - indeed, at times Charlene seems like a wise neighbor who has dropped in for brunch - to catch up, to tell stories, to offer her intimate observations and advice.

The kind of wry social commentary Charlene offers up here is an often neglected part of the modern songwriter's craft - particularly when it comes to the loosely defined genre now called "the Blues." The attraction of the Blues for many young folks, back when it first surfaced at the edges of mainstream America back in the 1960's, was not limited to the fiery instrumental work and powerhouse rhythms that have influenced so much of popular culture since. The Blues, as delivered by artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith, Big Mamma Thornton, and by great songwriters like Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed, had advice for us all about managing the rapidly changing roles of men and women - and the seemingly eternal issues lying just below the surface. Try as we might to wrestle sexual politics into submission, the whole world just kept on (and keeps on) fightin' about that same old thing.

The good news for men here is that Charlene takes a remarkably even-handed approach - she seems to like men just fine, and she treats our foibles with sympathy and understanding - to a point. The title tune, "That Would Be Me," is an advertisement for herself that portrays Charlene as the perfect woman for your typical slacker musician (and after decades of playing in bands with us in Alaska, California and the Northwest, she certainly knows what band guys want to hear).

"Who's gonna take care of ya, when you've been drinkin' too much gin?
Who won't even wanna know, about everywhere that you've been?
Who won't try to change you, and just let you be yourself?
That would be me!"

As the old song by The Band goes, "A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one!" No matter how lazy, selfish, or endlessly self-justifying a male you might be, Charlene's there for you, pardner, right? Well... actually, no. There are definite limits to her patience, as we find in "Life's Too Short", where we hear that "all the time I wasted on you, I coulda had my own fun..." and in the final analysis, "I've got better things to do, than to listen to a fool like you!"

Her sharp wit is not reserved for men, however. In a song like "Don't Try to Change Your Man," Charlene has advice for her sisters - and a warning about the dangers of micromanagement (described as "making sure he's doing things right - and doing it your way...")

"You say you really love him, there's just a few small things,
You're telling me you don't really like the way he acts sometimes,
And you think that you can change him, a little at a time...
Don't try to change your man..."

Independence comes at a price, though, and Charlene doesn't skip over this part, either - as in "I'm not the one, that you're ever gonna choose, I'm just the one with the Blues.." (with great stinging Albert Collins style guitar by John Stephan).

One of my favorites on this rich collection is a take-off on Johnny Paycheck's 70's hit, "Take This Job and Shove It." It's a new, dangerous century though, and the advice today is to try to love your job - while you still have one. "Do you know how many people want to work in other lands?" Topical commentary like this has always been a comfort to working people, and songs like this are sorely needed today.

I don't have room to go tune-by-tune in this review - much as I want to - but I hope you have a bit of the flavor. The music on this CD is uniformly excellent. Charlene assembled a large group of friends for this project - and her friends are among the finest area musicians, including co-producer, arranger and guitarist John Stephan, our brilliant local treasure Brother Jack Cook on guitar and National steel-bodied guitar, the great sax player John Firmin, the ubiquitous Greg Roberts on mandolin, and an array of excellent drummers and bass players, including Les Merrihew, Kevin Cook, John Lee, Guy Quintino, and Ms. Grant herself. Background vocals on many tunes feature the strong voice of Ava Stephan, who mixes perfectly with Charlene. John Marshall, Charlene's partner in crime from the New Orleans flavored "Wild Rhododendrons," and a fine songwriter himself, shows up as co-writer, lead vocal and harmonica on "Say the Word."

The music here really covers the waterfront, from the soulful funk of "The Business of Love," to the cafe jazz of "Spark an Old Flame." This is the kind of CD I keep looking for, year in and ye - Washington Blues Society Newsletter


That Would Be Me, Independent, 2004



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