THINGS ARE LOOKING UP Grabert (left) and his new mates.
Josh Grabert has spent the past 18 months performing as the one-man band Torn Shorts, and his official debut, Life On a River, is an impressive collection. The East Bay singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist hits the stage strapped up with a harmonica, guitar, kick drum, tambourine, and banjo. Grabert led Gamblin' Hands for a few years before venturing out on the solo route. Life On a River is yet another "must-hear" local record, a mix of homegrown blues and roots with a catchy chorus or two along the way. While we won't anoint the talented Grabert as the next Joe Fletcher just yet (the Josh Grabert Blues Explosion?), Life On a River is a very promising intro to Torn Shorts and reaffirms the promise I saw and heard in Gamblin' Hands a few years ago. Pick up the disc next week when Torn Shorts performs at Dusk.
Grabert recently dropped the solo approach, adding drummer Brendan Tompkins and guitarist Nick Molack, both of the Sun*Dried Alibi (they're on the hunt for a full-time bassist). "Our live show is a bit rowdier than the record," Grabert said, noting that he has already begun recording new material with his mates, who he met following the completion of Life On a River, which was co-produced with John Mailloux.
"There was a lot of improv involved, and John was a great help with on-the-spot ideas," Grabert told me. Aside from some additional drum and piano parts, Grabert is the sole player on River, which includes songs that were originally penned for a Gamblin' Hands album.
"I rearranged the tunes so I could play them solo, and recorded them as they evolved," Grabert explained. "I definitely didn't want things to sound too polished,"
The album's intro gives way to "KDubbs," a bittersweet, harmonica-laced number, with Grabert hitting the lines, "As she spits in the face of a man's broken heart/the dagger of unspoken words sticks right, right to its mark." His Dylanesque drawl shines through early on. "These diamonds cloud my brain/It's only a matter of time before I go insane," he sings on "Brow Street" (named for Grabert's previous Barrington address); accompanied by slide guitar, piano, and brushed percussion, it's a beauty. Grabert strums away on the toe-tapper "Red Head," singing, "I don't know how you found a way to my heart." The latter half includes the fuzzy diamond-in-the-rough thumper "All Them Kids," where Grabert digs in with, "Hey woman, what's your problem now?/You think you're so smart right from the start/Don't even chit-chat before we part," and growls with a sleepy sneer. Equally noteworthy is the lo-fi banjo gallop of "Paint a Picture."
Grabert plugs in for some bluesy shredding on "Take My Soul," which should sound even better with the added personnel jamming onstage. "It's nice to have other people to bounce ideas off of," he said of the recent recording sessions with Torn Shorts bandmates Molack and Tompkins.
Grabert noted that the band will continue to tour around the region behind Life On a River, and our Boston friends can catch Torn Shorts on Saturday (the 10th) at McGann's.
TORN SHORTS & SPECIAL GUESTS | Thursday, December 15 @ 9 pm | Dusk, 301 Harris Avenue, Providence | 21+ | 401.714.0444 | tornshortsmusic.com