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Band Folk Rock


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"Don't Be Afraid"

Giant Bear is a toe-tapping, head-spinning good time. Technically the band belongs in the increasingly popular roots/Americana category. But it makes more sense to consider the long list of instruments appearing on their EP (flute, harp, cello and mandolin in addition to the usual suspects), throw in that they've been compared to the New Pornographers, and conclude that such a combination of sounds could only go in a stellar direction.
While Giant Bear's sound has a twangy, bluegrassy appeal that's all the rage these days, the blend of male and female vocals and layering of soaring flute over staccato rhythms sets them apart as a band cultivating an artistic vision rather than a band trying to reproduce a sound that has worked for a lot of other people over the years. Giant Bear also manages to maintain a raw simplicity in their music without ever getting sloppy — impressive considering they're coordinating the skills of six members playing instruments that don't traditionally end up on stage together.
Lyrically, their EP New American Wilderness takes you from love in a small town to the discovery of pregnancy to judicial bribery. Don't be afraid if you meet this bear down at your local watering hole.
- Eugene Weekly

"Orchestral Funkabilly"

That’s what you’re going to experience when you go hear Giant Bear tear up The Nick tonight. This is an unabashed six-piece rock band featuring a slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, drums, flute, cello and harp. We realize that’s more instruments than band members – they switch it up, OK? Sometimes it feels like every single one of those tools is in play, however, especially while listening to the Tennessee band’s album, New American Wilderness. The music is unrelenting, layered so heavily with that beautiful instrumentation. The band, by the way, contains former members of Okraboy and Ruffin Brown Band, just in case that prods you along. Whatever gets you there, we promise, you will not be disappointed when you leave. - Birmingham Weekly

"Giant Bear at MPMF"

Orchestral Funkabilly

This fun, intriguing sextet is indeed unique enough to merit its own, self-made musical genre. With flute, mandolin, cello and banjo (plus good ol' guitars, bass, keys and drums), the band (dubbed a "Southern-fried version of the New Pornographers" by the Memphis Flyer) creates a boisterous brand of rootsy Folk Pop, unlike anything else going on in the Americana world (or anywhere, for that matter). Despite the originality and progressive songwriting, Giant Bear's debut album, New American Wilderness, is steeped in tradition. But it's the way this regularly touring crew puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together that makes them so compelling. - City Beat (Cincinnati, OH)

"Local Beat by Andrea Lisle"

Members of Okraboy and The Ruffin Brown Band recently merged to form the seven-piece Giant Bear. An eclectic, rootsy group which features banjo, cello, flute, and mandolin, Giant Bear chose to hone its craft on the road, landing at the California ranch of chanteuse Victoria Williams, who sat with the group during a few stops on their West Coast tour. A more Southern-fried version of the New Pornographers (substitute Jana Misener's chops for Neko Case's sultry vocals), Giant Bear is currently hammering the Southeast, hitting venues like St. Louis' Off Broadway, Jackson, Mississippi's W.C. Don's, and Atlanta's Brandyhouse. Log onto the group's MySpace page ( to hear tracks such as "Man on the Mountain" and "Genes Not Chords," then mark Friday, October 7th, on your calendar: That's the date of Giant Bear's next hometown gig, scheduled for the Full Moon Club. - Memphis Flyer

"9/16: Bear Tactics by Nick Pittman"

Memphis’ Giant Bear has the potential to be one of the most unique bands you’ll never hear – unless you head to Artmosphere, 902 Johnston St., this Friday, Sept. 16. At six or seven members strong, the band proclaims itself as a funkabilly orchestra. Its numbers include banjo, slide guitar, mandolin, cello, flute, recorder, harp and more. You could call it hippie jam rock if it wasn't so darn tight. You could call it American roots music if it wasn’t so darn modern lyrically. Either way, call it pretty darn good, and you’d be pretty darn right. Call 233-3331 for more info. - The Times; Acadiana’s Weekly Newspaper

"GB Lays Claim to Own Type of Music"

by Mike Bookey

I've tried to come up with a delightfully clever, yet musically knowledgeable approach to describing this stylistically schizophrenic Memphis-based quintet, but everything I scribble down is littered with more hyphens, slashes, and commas than the ingredient list on a box of Fruit Loops.

Jeff White, who plays guitar and banjo in the band, realizes he's in a weird band – after all, the outfit is called Giant Bear – but insists they're not deliberate weirdos.
"In terms of trying to be intentionally weird, I don't think anyone has that intent. One of the things we all agreed on and all acknowledged, was that we don't want to do anything that will keep us from being as creative as we possibly can," White says.

The members of Giant Bear wear their creativity on their collective sleeve, as is apparent with their forthcoming self-titled album, set for release next month. Keeping in tune with the band's southern roots, yet fearlessly smashing through genre barriers, the disc includes hints of folk, funk, country, indie, Americana, garage rock, old time jazz – there I go again with the commas.

"Somebody started calling us orchestral funk-a-billy. I don't even remember who it was, but it was that first West Coast tour, and we didn't know – and still don't know – what exactly it was we were playing," White says.

All right, orchestral funk-a-billy it is.

The band's lineup and instrumentation, which includes cello, mandolin, banjo, electric and acoustic guitars, and even some brass (at least on the record) is a surefire reason why the band has caught the eyes and ears of music fans.

When cellist Jana Misener takes over the vocal duties on tracks like the horn-laden rocker "Leisure Learning," she shows off a devastatingly powerful set of pipes that bring to mind the Gwen Stefani of 1998 (when she was still actually singing) and adds another layer to a band already thick with talent.

As if the new record isn't hard enough to classify, Giant Bear tosses a cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole," into the middle of the playlist. The Giant Bear rendition follows Trent Reznor's blueprint, for the most part, with the addition of some funky guitar riffs, Mike Larrivee's spooky baritone, and a deep fried attitude that White dubs "space country."

Giant Bear calls to mind all sorts of other artists from across the spectrum without really sounding anything like those bands.

To use the SAT analogy format – Arcade Fire: indie rock; Giant Bear: Americana. By which I mean that had Arcade Fire honed its chops a couple thousand miles to the south, surviving mainly on Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, maybe they'd be a little Giant Bear-ish – who knows.

While Giant Bear comprises more than just native Tennesseans, White says the fact that the band is based in Memphis has an unmistakable impact on their music.

"What we've begun to take really seriously is the rooted nature of our music, and Memphis is a really great place to feel rooted," he says.

Rooted or otherwise, they're still freaking weird – but the good kind of weird.

- Source Weekly, Bend, OR


GIANT BEAR LP: Giant Bear; 2007 Red Wax Music

GIANT BEAR LP: New American Wilderness; 2006 Giant Bear Music

GIANT BEAR EP: Dead Lawyer Carnival; 2005 Giant Bear Music

Ruffin Brown Band LP: Mowgli; 2004 Novox Records



Giant Bear released their self-titled album in 2007. The album is enormous musically, showcasing a variety of established guest musicians all well-loved in Memphis, adding accordion, pedal steel, Hammond B3 and slide guitar. Despite how big the band’s music is sonically, the songs originate with the theory that music is best when it’s simple and the stories are straightforward.

Guitarist Jeff White brings the percussive sound of the banjo into the lineup of Giant Bear’s formation. They use the cello, played by Jana Misener, as the glue of the music, they still harvest three-part harmonies, and they sporadically bang on anything around them for percussion. Robert Humphreys on bass remains the backbone of Giant Bear’s music.

"Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention reincarnated as a modern day folk pop powerhouse." (Cincinnati City Beat)