Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Emm Gryner - Only of Earth

Review by Mike Kimmel

I'm always looking for new music. While that doesn't necessarily mean new – as in age-in-years – music, it does mean music I haven't heard before. Writing for Faster and Louder has given me a whole new appreciation for Bandcamp. I was familiar with it before (anyone familiar with The Dollyrots knows a lot of their freebies and preview stuff comes out there), but not near as much as now.

I found a site several years ago that has introduced me to some really good music that sadly not many will ever hear.

It's both fortunate and unfortunate for me because I spend a LOT of money there at PledgeMusic.com. They have brand new bands, barely established bands, and bands that have been around for years who are trying to fund their projects by selling digital versions of the new releases, some dynamite swag (autographed CDs, t-shirts, in the case of Uriah Heep you could get a chance to perform the Uriah Heep song of your choice on stage with the band, and with Kitten you got a phone call with Chloe Chaidez – which was, incidentally, extremely pleasant!).

That's how I learned about Emm Gryner. She was raising funds to put out Only of Earth, and there were a few samples available. I liked what I heard and, as I am often wont to do, opted to take a chance on an artist of whom I'd never heard. (Again, my propensity toward female artists rears its ugly head. Ugly on MY part – certainly NOT on her part at all!)

Oddly enough, my first thoughts after a few listens through Emm Gryner's latest release – Only Of Earth – were that she reminded me of a sort of cross between a mellower Uriah Heep and David Bowie. Then, I wound up getting to head out to a Uriah Heep concert mere weeks later – good grief do I love that band – and it reinforced that opinion! In fact, there are time Gryner sounds as heavy as Heep – especially when the guest musician with a Hammond B-3 in tow shows up.

During my Gryner research, I found several instances where she is seen performing with Bowie, shortly after which I learned that she has not only performed with Bowie on occasion, but she was also a keyboardist/vocalist in Bowie's band for a period of time.

I ordered Gryner's new release through PledgeMusic.com, and I was not disappointed. In fact, in all my dealings with PledgeMusic, I think there has been one time that I've regretted getting involved in the effort of an artist to release a new CD, and (unfortunately) that was an artist with whom I was already familiar. Everything else has been two thumbs up!

Well, on with the show!

First up is a nice instrumental I'd describe as "heavy ambient", which will hopefully make sense to someone. I like it, and it does give you a hint as to the twisting, winding melodic ride you're about to take.

"Shadow Girl" is where the lyrics start, and I mentioned much of this disc reminds me of a mellower Uriah Heep or a David Bowie. This tune reminds me of both at the same time.

Here's a lyric:
 "I hold you deep inside floating on a wildwood sky.
All your antics chase away the pain.
Stay here in the garden. Don't leave my lonely earth.
I'll never love again. I am the shadow girl.
And you'll find me by the moonlight on the water."

"Imagination" is much the same, sonically, but leaning more toward Bowie.

"Warping space what for? So the universe can't give, then take it away.
Take the silence to mean true love Magical. Dimensional.
Sound waves on acres. Dodge the enemy and be done."

The track that confuses me the most follows here. "Blood Balloons" starts heavy on keyboards and drums, and that's how much of the song is driven by both. It's one of the better songs on the album, but here are parts of some verses. It's not that I don't understand the words (c'mon now – I dump enough of them into your eyes often enough – I must know a few, right?), but I can't figure what exactly they all mean when they're packed into the same story.

"They say 'Be careful with that road 'cause nobody know if it'll stay true.'
They say 'Be careful with that girl 'cause every month she's someone new.'
I am what I am. Let it fly. Put the blood balloons up in the sky."

Then three minutes into the song, some tasty guitar kicks in. 30 seconds later, the lead gives way to the repeated chorus, then it's over with a cliff-hanger ending and I STILL don't know what it means.

"Something Tells Me" has some nice sax at the intro with a bit of flute sprinkled in for good measure. It starts with David Rhodes's vocals throwing it more into the Bowie arena than any other. The saxophone and flute continue intermittently through the song. At first I didn't much care for this song, but the more I listened to it the more it kinda grew on me – especially listening in headphones.

"I know we could step into that room. Melt to one from two. But I'll never get close enough to you. Something tells me."

After that line, you think you see where this track is going. But then the end tells you that you were wrong.

"Battered birds, we're tagged and true. One day I'm gonna give my love to someone like you."

Maybe the moral is that nice guys DO finish last.

"A Mission" (featuring Greg Lowe – more on him later).

This might be a song of regret and hope. Yes, at the same time.
"Oh my heart is not the same as it was when my feet first touched the soil.
Comets call. The reeds grow evermore over all the things I dreamed as a girl.
Now I'm on a mission. Torch all the fields. I'll burn the sorrow that you brought here.
It sounds like…
New hearts cry. The moors send back an echo over all the things we vowed in younger days."

One of the two tracks here that really remind me of some good Uriah Heep (oh, sure – like there's such a thing as BAD Uriah Heep!), "The Passing of Ayro".

"And I believe it as you lay at the gates. Struggling for air you need double what it takes. I should have walked you home."

From about two minutes to about three and a half, a rocking interlude featuring heavy duty keys (Leonard Shaw on what HAS to be one of the most integral keyboards to heavy duty rock and roll – the Hammond B3), guitar, drums… Yeah, I guess pretty much everyone gets involved in opening the can of instrumental whoop-ass here. Then the instrumental break slows considerably for about 30 more seconds. Still very good. Moody, in fact.

"We're zombie-like. Lost your love in the moonlight. I should have walked you home."

And then, one of the best songs on the CD is over with another kind of cliffhanger ending that makes it that much more effective.

Greg Lowe on some gorgeous and very fitting acoustic guitar that sounds almost classical is a big part of "Whatever Wind" and the accompanying lyrics like "Though the dark fills the sky I will come out a champion. Come out on the mountain top. Whatever wind." Then, Lowe again with the electric guitar break. Another good song, although the pace is slowed somewhat throughout. And I DID only say "somewhat".

Good gawd Gertie! Rock my socks, please! "The Spark" is another rocker and another Heep-like tune. I love this song a whole lot. Guitars, great vocals, thudding heavy drums when needed transitioning to time-biding cymbal ticks, and Emm's bass is quite noticeable here. It makes you wish she'd crank it further toward the front more often.

"Cowards strike in the in the dead of night. That's when they roll. From X Acres I have come and quietly I won't go."

"Burn the land that we shared and leave behind debris. Blind eyes! Ticking time! You're not fooling me!"

"There's no love on the horizon. Nobody owns my heart. I wait for no man. I am the spark."

"Creatures live in the river blood. That's where they roam. Navigate or plan escape. How you gonna keep from cold?
There’s little time, before we know it we're hanging by a thread. Blind eyes! Ticking time! I remember what you said!"

"Comets Call" is just Gryner on vocals, piano and synthesizer. That said, it's obviously a slower song but it's another good one – both musically and lyrically.

"Blame. I put it on me. When I search the past it's clear to see
That you became a ghost. My signal-seeking heart needed you most.
The more I looked the more you set adrift. What is it worth to say you were always what I missed?"

So it's obvious it's about a relationship gone slowly and maybe excruciatingly south. The pain didn't stop at the end of the relationship, but continues with the analysis of the who's, what's, and whys. Then, the regret:

"Comets call once a lifetime. You were mine, I know it's frightening. Now you're gone, long gone. Oh, what comes next? Forcing out a breath I send an S.O.S."

Gryner's Bowie influence shows through again on "Silent Steps". Layers of choir-like vocals in the background, unusual bass (unusual isn't exactly the word I wanted, but it's all I could come up with at the time – it's good and fits, but it's different), and a synth solo by Emm.

"I got a map I can't keep track of. Oh, this bloody heart keeps waiting for a beat like rational youth. I thought I had a head start."

"But all my loves have dies. Can't tell illusion from music; love from lies."

"I got to move. Breathe. When it makes no sense. Put one foot in front of the other. Move. Breathe. Take silent steps."

Then the album wraps up with "Reprise" starting off with keyboards that make you feel like you've set sail, but then you have a remnant from "Prologue" jumping in. Around 30 seconds, you hear the drums (well, actually, just cymbals at this point) hinting at a bit of dance/techno (ish) remix of the opening track.

Then, if you're like me, about 20 or 30 listens into the song you realize that the reprise is a sort of summary. Any good speaker knows you do three things during your presentation:

You tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em.

You tell 'em.

Then you tell 'em what ya told 'em.

Do you recognize any of these lyrics?

"I'm on a mission. I'll torch the fear. I'll burn the sorrow that you brought here."


"The universe can't give, then take it away."


"All my loves have died."

Or (finally),

"I won't lie."

Yes'm. They're from different songs through the release. If it's good enough to say once, it's good enough to say twice. Trust me, please. The stuff on Gryner's latest release IS "good enough" and then some.

The information Gryner provides about the concept behind Only of Earth is, as stated on her PledgeMusic page:
"Only of Earth is a soundtrack to a story, inspired by true events and fiction. Inspired by the mystery of childbirth, the work of motherhood and the intrigue of love, life and loss, Only of Earth is a multi-media experience that will incorporate music as much as sketches, videos, a book and eventually, a live show."

I mentioned earlier there would be more about Greg Lowe (guitars on several tracks) later in the story.

It's now "later in the story". Lowe was quite active and very well-respected in the Canadian music scene with bands like The Lincolns, The Chess Club, and others as well as projects such as arranging and performing four Mozart opera pieces for a rock combo. In fact, his excursions took him to rock, acoustic, classical, symphonic, jazz, Latin, film/television/radio productions, and even (oh the horror) heavy metal!

Regarded as a premiere guitarist, it's a testament to Gryner's work to have a musician of this caliber contribute to the project and seem directly at home with every part in which he was involved. Gryner never had to "up her ante" to keep up and Lowe never had to play down – they seemed to balance each other out nicely.

Lowe died in 2017 after a battle with cancer.

The acknowledgements from the booklet accompanying the Gryner CD ends with the single line:
"In loving memory of Greg Lowe (1957-2017)"

None of the information about Lowe is intended to take anything away from the subject of the story, which is Emm Gryner and her Only of Earth project. For an artist as involved in music as she has been and as recognized as she has been, it's hard to understand why I never got to any of her work earlier than this.

Ah well. No matter. I have now, and I assume I'm going to do a lot more investigating!

 -Mike Kimmel


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