One of the most celebrated of maverick cult roots outfits, Groanbox (Oscar Cainer, Paul Clifford, Cory Seznec and Michael Ward-Bergeman) here release their sixth album in celebration of ten years of making music together.
But it almost didn’t happen, when three years ago the band found themselves geographically scattered and with nowhere to record; happily, a fortuitous encounter led to the offer of a remote tree-house near Killaloe (Ontario) to use as a studio, and the album grew organically, at first from sessions there and subsequently from followup meets at a deserted gas station store. The spirit of the forest informed the music and creativity; and as it turns out, most appropriately. For, though initially known as Groanbox Boys, the band (whose slimmed-down name derives from a corruption of the French “grand bois”), has always associated strongly with the Haitian voudou god of the deep forest.
The quartet gained quite a reputation during the final years of the last decade for its storming, if eccentric live shows, which presented a heady parade of musical images and references drawn from both Americana/old-time and Africana, the guys accompanying themselves on archaic and home-made instruments as well as by conventional musical means as the songs unfold almost intuitively from the seemingly improvised backdrops. This ostensibly peculiar mix of sounds and influences and its attendant calculated weirdness are found to be still going strong on this new set, from the eerie Harry-Partch-chimings and beat-style recitation of Marshdale Loonsand the junkyard percussion cacophony of Deep Tree Diving through to the sinister cool-rumba of The Face That You Deserve (featuring Venezuelan guest vocalist Yulene Velásquez) and the swampy Katrina and the middle-eastern-inflected clattery pot-pourri ofOrchestrated Entropy. Signature Groanbox percussive strangenesses such as the legendary Freedom Boot (a variant of the zob-stick), cracked glass windows and dead pine trees all find a place within the itchy, edgy textures, as do primordial bluesy slide guitar licks, wheezy accordions and old-time gourd banjo, with occasional interjections from trombone, piano and harmonica and the guest trumpet playing of New Orleans’ Kenneth Terry.
A strange but intoxicating brew, and one that repays a careful listen to penetrate beneath the superficial level of antiquarian curio. Potent, yes, but still surprisingly accessible.
Review by: David Kidman
Order via Bandcamp