Firstly this week, I’d like to thank the wonderful Ben Lee who retweeted my blog post to his 24,700 followers!
Secondly, I’d like to apologise that I’m only reviewing one album this week. I had planned to review Bush (or “Bush with Gavin Rossdale” as Apple Music are now calling them, no doubt to cash in on The Voice) and Laura Marling as well, but I’ve been enjoying Greg Graffin so much that I’ve barely had a chance to listen to anything else.
Greg Graffin is best known as the frontman of one of the pioneers of modern American Punk, Bad Religion. However, he’s not your typical punk rock frontman – He has a PHD from the prestigious Cornell University, and has lectured in Palaeontology and Life Science both at Cornell and at UCLA. His solo material is also far removed from the SoCal punk scene that made him famous.
His first solo album, 1997’s American Lesion, was a folk record written during his divorce – just Graffin’s voice accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano. His follow up, 2006’s Cold As The Clay was a traditional American folk record, made up of a combination of traditional 18th and 19th century folk songs and Graffin’s own compositions.
On Millport, his 3rd solo album, he is backed by members of fellow SoCal punk pioneers Social Distortion with this more electric sound suiting his voice much better than some of his previous work.
The songs themselves are mainly folk rock and country rock, with elements of both traditional country and alt-country throughout (I actually hate the term alt-country, despite it being one of my favourite genres, but that’s a different story). On careful listening, all sorts of instruments are used throughout – banjo, mandolin and fiddle are prominent as well as both acoustic and electric guitars.
Jangly country songs “Backroads of my Mind” and “Too Many Virtues” open the album and set the tone for the record nicely – both tracks are well written, well produced and you certainly get the vibe that the band are enjoying playing on the record.
The standout tracks for me are difficult to choose, as there isn’t a weak track on the album. The rock-infused history lesson “Lincoln’s Funeral Train” is definitely a standout, telling the story of Lincoln’s body’s last train ride, and is the most unique song on the record, although I would say no 2 songs are the same anyway. The more traditional folk song “Time of Need” is my favourite lyrically, full of secular sentiment with its “Hey Man, Hey Man! No religion can help this time of need” chorus, and my favourite lyric on the record “all your hard work and all you made known will be carved on a 12 inch stone”. Finally, “Echo on the Hill” is the the perfect mix of harmonies and banjo!
In fact, with “Echo on the Hill” in mind, if I had to criticise the album I would say there aren’t enough harmonies across the record, especially given that Bad Religion’s regular use of three part harmonies was one of the things that made them stand out from the crowd. That’s not to say there are no harmonies, but the record could benefit from more.
I would also say that the record is too restrained in places, there are certain points where I feel like they should head into early Drive-By Truckers style alt-country, but then veer back into the safe country rock territory of the rest of the album.
Neither of these criticisms really takes anything away from what is a brilliant good time country rock album, performed by a group of accomplished musicians.