Avey Grouws Band – Tell Tale Heart
Navy House Records NHCD2021
10 songs – 41 minutes
Fronted by honeyed vocalist Jeni Grouws and six-string master Chris Avey, this Iowa-based quintet delivered The Devil May Care, a CD brimming with promise last year, achieving international airplay and reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s album chart. And they continue their ascendancy with this all-original collection, which mixes blues, rock, funk and more.
The former lead guitarist for Arizona Blues Hall of Famer Big Pete Pearson and a 2009 finalist at the International Blues Challenge, Chris met Jenny at a jam at a club in Bettendorf, one of four towns that form the Quad Cities on both sides of the Mississippi River, in 2015. The magic that night was so palpable that they quickly formed a duo that evolved into a full band two years later.
With a lineup that includes Randy Leasman on bass, Bryan West on drums and Nick Vazquez on keyboards, they’ve become a national presence through multiple appearances at the IBCs themselves, twice making it to the semi-finals – most recently in 2019. The Devil May Care reached the finals in the best debut album category at the 2020 Blues Blast Music Awards, and their tune, “Come and Get This Love,” took home third place in the International Songwriting Competition and captured top honors in the Unsigned Only Songwriting Competition.
The third album in their catalog, which also includes an EP entitled Road to Memphis, this is an all-original effort that was penned by the two principals and produced by Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist Casey Wasner (Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal) at East Iris Studios in Nashville and The Purple House in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn.
Penned at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, much of the material on this one deals with the crisis and the political and social upheavals that it left in its wake. The driving blues-rocker, “Love Raining Down,” opens the action on a hopeful note as it invokes a wish for more peaceful times ahead. The deluge continues and the mood brightens considerably in “There for Me,” a feel-good love song that celebrates the support of a good man during these trying times.
Avey powers out of the gate on the strings to open “Bad, Bad Year,” an unhurried ballad that describes a world and relationships in turmoil amplified by having to endure days that fade into darkness and nights that last too long. “Hanging Around,” a breezy pop number with an ‘80s feel, is up next. In this one, Jeni maintains hope that her unsupportive lover will change his wayward ways – a theme that continues in “Tell Tale Heart,” a blues-rock torch song that remembers the good times and recognizes that her man is hurting but recognizing that he won’t stop cheating.
The seven-minute instrumental ballad “Mariana” starts quietly and builds intensity throughout as it allows Chris to shine — and Jeni to give her voice a rest — before the band goes acoustic with the light and airy “Daylight,” which serves up the idea that every sleepless night will end with a sunrise and the promise of better times ahead.
The funk kicks in for “Heart’s Playing Tricks,” a blues-rocker that describes the unsubstantiated belief that the man’s been unfaithful again. The feel continues in “We’re Gonna Roll,” which looks forward to good times ahead, before Avey and Grouws share the mic for “Eye to Eye,” which finds them at odds but always knowing they couldn’t have a better friend.
If you’re a fan of contemporary, original blues, you can’t go wrong with this one. Strongly recommended.