Cathy Grier and the Troublemakers – I’m All Burn
CG Music Works/Singerfish Publishing
CD: 16 Songs, 70 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues
The Spanish verb esperar has three meanings: “to wait,” “to expect,” and “to hope.” It’s what we’ve been doing for the past year. Without the patience to hold out and hold the line, the expectation of better days ahead, and the hope of a more peaceful world, what makes life worth living? That’s the overall message of I’m All Burn, the fourteenth album from Wisconsin-based blueswoman Cathy Grier and her backup band, the Troublemakers. What it lacks in raw power, it makes up for in earnestness. On fifteen original songs and one cover (Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”), Cathy and company remind us that “if you get down on yourself, you better search for that silver lining. ‘Cause the sun comes up somewhere in the world – reason enough to keep us all smiling, and that’s why I call this the ‘don’t get down on yourself, it’s Happiness Blues.’”
Is this enough to carry an entire blues album running for more than an hour? Mileage will vary according to three variables: 1) one’s schedule, 2) one’s current mood and 3) one’s love of low-key, high-optimism music. Looking for grit, angst and shred guitar? You won’t find any here. Thankfully, Cathy’s clear vocals and the Troublemakers’ instrumentation come together to provide a solid alternative. Coffee, perhaps a smooth mocha latte, is an appropriate beverage to sip while listening. Don’t go for beer or other intoxicants. This isn’t that kind of blues CD.
Says Cathy on her website, “I fell in love with the Sturgeon Bay scene so much that I moved to Wisconsin. Within three years of arriving, I won [the] Paramount Music Association Blues challenge in 2017 (Solo and People’s Choice), and went to International Blues Challenge in 2018. [I’ve] performed with my band Cathy Grier and The Troublemakers three years in a row at Summerfest (2017-18 US Cellular One, and 2019 BMO Harris Pavilion), headlined my own show at Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek (Sept ’19), [and] performed solo and with a band throughout WI. Door County favorite live music clubs.” Other entries on Grier’s resume include the Paramount Music Festival (’17), Moose Fest (’18), Ellison Bay Blues On The Bay Fest (’18), Prairie Lakes Blues Fest (’17) , Von Stiehl Winery, Gibson’s Music Hall, and opening for Mark Hummel and Billy Flynn at New Shore Club Wisconsin, Elkhart Lake (’19).
This particular album features such notable guests as Greg Koch, Billy Flynn, Jimmy Voegeli, Howard Levy, Matt Liban, Steve Cohen, Andrew Spadafora, Deirdre Fellner, and Liv Mueller. The Troublemakers consist of Tony Menzer on bass, Jamey Clark on drums, Larry Byrne on keys, Jim Ohlschmidt on guitar and Pauli Ryan on percussion.
A surefire highlight is “Key to My Survival,” with gorgeous guitar throughout and a peppy beat that’ll make one and all want to dance. Dig that rumbling bassline, those understated keys, and the warning to beware of people who make you dependent upon them, whether they do so knowingly or not: “I thought the key to my survival was you. You stepped right in, busted right through, kept me thinking that the key to my survival was you.” For another great song, the penultimate track, “Question of Desire,” will more than do. With funky keyboards and Bonnie Raitt vibes, it’s a natural song to put one in the mood.
I’m All Burn may be a warm ray of sunshine, but it needs more kindling to become an inferno!