Carmen Grillo – A Different World | Album Review

carmengrillocdCarmen Grillo – A Different World

Big Surprise Music – 2013

12 tracks; 51 minutes

Carmen Grillo has been an in-demand session player on the West Coast for many years.  He was a member of Tower Of Power for a decade and currently plays in The Sons Of Champlin, as well as running his own studio, writing and playing a wide variety of sessions.

On this album he makes good use of his contacts with appearances by the Tower Of Power horns and many well-known West Coast players.  Carmen plays all the guitar parts and handles lead vocals, assisted by Tony Braunagel, Steve Stephens and Herman Matthews on drums; Mark Meadows, Bobby Watson and Francis Rocco Prestia on bass; Mike Finnigan, Bill Champlin, Rob Mullins, Mark Hugenberger, Dale Ockerman, Bob Emmet and Ruben Valtierra on keys, Curt Campbell on harmonica and Greg Adams, Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka, Lee Thornburg, Dave Boruff, Johnnie Bamont, Tom Saviano and Tom Scott on horns.

Carmen wrote most of the material, assisted by various co-writers but the album opens with two covers.  “Come And Gone” comes from the pen of Greg Koch and makes for a great start as Carmen’s fluent guitar and the massed horns drive the song along, Carmen immediately demonstrating that he has a good voice.  The horns are again influential on a funky version of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s classic “A Real Mother For Ya” in which Carmen produces a very fine, sinuous solo.

There is a different side to his playing demonstrated on the instrumental “I Got The Sauce”; the bubbling bass (by co-writer Francis Rocco Prestia) starts it off, with the keys providing the rhythm parts over which Carmen plays in a soaring style that recalls jazz-rock players like Lee Rittenour – not at all blues, but great to hear anyway.

“Tryin’ To Make It Happen” has the horns back in place on a mid-paced tune with a very West Coast, laid-back feel before another instrumental “Prototype”, featuring sax ace Tom Scott whose reed parts sound like more than one person is playing, Carmen responding to the challenge with some fine playing, again in jazz-rock mode.

The title track “A Different World” puts the horns alongside a funky riff as Carmen gets a little political: “The world we live in ain’t like it used to be, won’t find a solution in Washington DC.  Pure and simple, it might never be the same.  Don’t be discouraged, it’s the nature of the game”.  More funk follows with the catchy “Transatlantic Boogie” as Carmen creates a dialogue between two guitar parts and the rhythm section gets deep into the funk while piano man Bob Emmet plays off the rhythm to set a counterpoint to Carmen’s guitar.

“Sad State Of Affairs” is a ballad with more blues content than on most of this album, the ‘b’ word even putting in an appearance: “People are always crying the blues, when nothing’s right and there’s nothing left to lose”.  “The Nature Of The Beast” is an uptempo tune co-written with harp player Curt Campbell, Carmen producing a great riff upon which Curt and the horns show us their strengths.

“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” is definitely a blues with the rolling rhythm and Carmen’s convincing vocal supported by twin keyboards that give a real swirling feel to the tune.  A final instrumental “River Of Molten Rock” gives Carmen the chance to solo fluently over some strong drumming, percolating bass and organ.  The closing track is different, with Carmen on acoustic guitar accompanied only by Rob Mullins’ keyboard, a touching ballad paying tribute to a strong relationship in “You’re The One”.  A strong track vocally, Carmen harmonizes with himself, producing a sound not unlike CSN on the chorus.

Whilst there is not a lot of blues content in this album the material is strong and the quality of playing excellent.  With a mix of influences ranging across jazz, pop, rock and R n’ B Carmen Grillo has produced an album that has something for most listeners to enjoy.

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