Grady Champion – One Of A Kind
12 Tracks; 52 minutes
What can be said about Grady Championed that hasn’t already been said, including with the virtual pages of this very publication. You probably already know that he is the youngest of his father’s 28 children, and that he started singing gospel in church at the age of eight. I can’t say if the former influenced his music, but it’s very clear that the latter did.
He is dedicated to the blues and is committed to keeping the form alive. Some people say he is doing this by adhering closely to its roots. Others, me among them, believe he is doing it by following the trend of everything becoming blues/rock or some other fusion, ultimately ending up as Blues Lite.
Blues, both traditional and contemporary, has always challenged propriety. There was always something slightly dangerous about it. Think of the song “Black Snake Moan” and its none-too-subtle symbolism. This sense of danger crossed over into rock & roll. That’s why middle America turned Little Richard’s scream into Pat Boone’s croon.
There is nothing dangerous about Grady Champion. He is a happy guy who makes happy music. He may have even invented a new sub-genre, Happy Blues.
But oh, my, he is good at it. This is a terrifically well-produced album. The musicianship is stellar, right down to the fabulous backing vocals. Champion is a consummate professional – a good, but not great harp player; a very good, but not great singer, but a truly great entertainer. And an excellent songwriter, comfortable in blending different genres together to create his own sound.
You won’t find a dud song on this CD. You won’t find a spectacular, genre-changing one either, but you will find some catchy, swinging up-tempo blues songs that will get you going. I also really like the gospel influenced rhythms and backing vocals. In “Heels & Hips”, you can almost hear the Staple Singers singing back-up.
There are 11 new tracks on the CD plus a bonus track of the previously recorded GC Boogie, and there are a few that stand above the rest.
“Stone In My Path” is a harp-driven, funky, syncopated number that smokes. This is a very cool strut and Champion has the pizzazz to carry this off with authority. “Thin Line” is a moody minor key exploration with Champion’s best harp tone on the album. It’s also one his best vocal performances, brilliantly supported by his killer band and superb back-up vocals.
The title track, “One Of A Kind” is the most heart-felt track on the album and it gives Champion the chance to reach us with his vocals. And for the most part, he does make that connection.
There is one tune that gets under your skin and just won’t leave. “Move Something” is a fantastic dance tune. “If you don’t know how to dance, all you gotta do is move something …”
If this tune doesn’t make you want to dance, you need to get medical attention quickly. It’s an infectious tune that you will catch yourself humming long after you listen to this album.
This CD is not gritty, it’s not Delta Blues or even south side Chicago Blues. This is definitely an urbane, uptown work. It’s as if Grady Champion is proclaiming that the Blues has grown up and can take its rightful place at the American music table along with Jazz, Rock, Great American Songbook, R&B and the rest.
This is a CD that looks over its shoulder at where it comes from, but with a clear eye on where it’s going.