“I’m All Burn”
CG Music Works
By Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © September 2020
Before I get into this review I’d like to compliment Cathy Grier for the precise attention to detail she displayed in the listing of the musician credits. As a reviewer – and equally relevant, as a listener as well – it is important for me to know which of the three guitarists listed on the CD it is who is shredding it on a particular track or which of the two listed saxophonists are blowing the sultry notes on another track. That said, with “I’m All Burn” using five harmonica players; four guitarists; two bassists, drummers and keyboardists; a three piece horn section; several background vocalists and a percussionist; not once did I not know who was doing what and when. Thank you Cathy.
I’m not a big fan of including a lot of what can be read at an artist’s website in my reviews, but occasionally I read something I’ve just got to say a few words about. Spanning forty years, Cathy Grier has had quite an interesting and many-sided musical career of which just a small sampling includes: winning an MTV “Basement Tapes” Award; opening for diverse acts such as Laura Nyro and The Band; making a living as a solo artist in Key West, FL; singing with a fourteen piece band in the Paris Opera; and so much more. That all said, it’s interesting to know that as far as Cathy is concerned, things really kicked in after relocating to Sturgeon Bay, WI just four short years ago…..but I’m just going to let you read more on this and the rest of her very exciting music life when you click on the link to her website at the bottom of this review.
Offering well over an hour of entertaining and well written music and songs, Cathy’s thirteenth release – “I’m All Burn” – features sixteen tracks. Along with a cover of “Ode To Billy Joe”, the other fifteen are all Cathy Grier originals and/or compilations. Along with Cathy – on lead vocals, cigar box guitar and sitar guitar – the Troublemakers are: Tony Menzer on bass; Jamey Clark on drums; Jim Ohlschmidt on guitar and vocals; Larry Byrne on organ and keyboards; and Johnny Orlock on harmonica. Additionally, honorary Troublemakers include: Deirdre Fellner and Liv Mueller on backing vocals; Greg Koch on guitar and slide guitar; Howard Levy and Steve Cohen on harmonica; Jimmy Voegeli on keyboards; Billy Flynn on guitar and harmonica; Matt Liban on drums; pat mAacdonald (sic) on harmonica and backing vocals; Pauli Ryan on percussion; Andrew Spadafora on saxophones; Joe Neimann on trumpet; and Mike Lizzo on trombone.
Just like with race, it’s sickening that – after all these years – protests need to take place and songs still need to be written about gender inequality. The title track, “I’m All Burn” is one such song. Having been thrown through the fire for so long, Cathy – like with many other women – is all burn. Musically, being one of just a handful of tracks that feature the full horn section, the track has quite a soulful feel. There’s also a fabulous solo that sounded so much like a steel drum that I had to ask Cathy what the instrument was. Turns out it was the sitar and the tone that came from it was so cool.
“Down On My Knees” is a heartwarming tale of the wonders of fate. In this particular case, it was fate that Cathy attributes to bringing love into her life and her joy can be clearly heard in her voice. It’s a great rhythm track highlighted by impressive baritone sax and organ leads from Andrew Spadafora and Larry Byrne; and slick guitar leads from the lady herself.
So if it were I that Cathy was sultrily telling “You can do anything you want to do, as long as you drop what you’re doing at half past two, and meet me on the back road” I’d make sure I’d be there by two-fifteen at the very latest. With Tony Menzer and Jamey Clark in a smooth rhythm groove behind them, the killer slide guitar from the hands of Greg Koch and very bluesy harmonica leads being blown by Steve Cohen, make this one of the more traditional blues tracks.
The soft and sullen guitar lead by Jim Ohlschmidt and the light touch Larry Byrne’s using on the organ during the intro into “Easy Come Easy Go” clearly indicate this one’s going to be a beautiful ballad. Then Cathy comes in and and absolutely sings her heart out. As readers of my reviews know, I’m a sucker for a ballad and even a bigger sucker when it’s sung by a woman. Using impressive range and note holding skills, on what I believe is her best vocal performance on the disc, Cathy knocks this one out of the box.
So when those precisely written credits I mentioned earlier showed me that Billy Flynn and Jimmy Vogelli were both performing on “Good Thing”, before even listening it was predetermined this track would make it into this review. That said, with Jimmy leading the way for the horns with a smokin’ organ runs and Billy nailing his guitar solos, the guys certainly live up to their reputations. Additionaly, with Tony Menzer and Matt Liban – on bass and drums – adding some of the disc’s best rhythm, they really get this funky track off and running. Lyrically, with Cathy comparing this so called good thing to the eye of a hurricane, you’ll quickly figure out the sarcasm.
With the rest of the band in a relaxed rhythm groove behind them, Cathy and Steve Cohen take “Happiness Blues” and run with it. Being slow blues, it’s almost automatic that I’ll like it, but with Cathy nailing it on the soulfully emotional vocals and killing it on the blues guitar leads; and Steve blowing what just might be some of the softest and silkiest blue harp leads I’ve ever heard, I absolutely love it.
When I saw this song listed, never in a million years did I ever think I’d be saying something about it…..and yet, here I am. Even with Cathy doing an excellent job on the vocals, on his only appearance, it’s Howard Levy doing an absolutely fantastic job on harmonica that’s getting the credit for this little bit on “Ode To Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry).
On the albums one sheet, Cathy refers to “Protecting My Heart” as “grooves and crossover blues” but with this genre being my second favorite, I’m going to take the liberty of calling it jazz…and very good jazz at that. With some groovy assistance on the background vocals by Deirdre and Liv, and the use of a bit of scat by Cat, it’s another vocal masterpiece; and with it’s groovy upbeat rhythm, led by a fabulous tenor sax session by Andrew, it’s a musical one as well.
Ever since the first time I ever saw a cigar box guitar, I could never get over how much music could come out of the instrument and how good that music could sound. That said, on the solo closing track titled “Cathy’s Bike Song”, Cathy’s smokin’ that cigar box.
Other tracks on this well done release, Cathy’s first full production in eighteen years, include: “Get Me Away”; “Cool Trick”; “Key To My Survival”; “Roots Run Deep”; “Keep You Out”; “What Fools Do”; “Question Of Desire”.
To find out more about Cathy Grier & The Troublemakers just go to – www.cathygrier.com. As usual, please tell them the Blewzzman sent you.
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 Keeping the Blues Alive Recipient