Grand Marquis – Brighter Days | Album Review

Grand Marquis – Brighter Days

Grand Marquis Music

9 songs – 42 minutes

Grand Marquis are something of a Kansas City institution now. Formed in the late 1990s, their swinging, rich, horn-driven sound has been blending blues, jazz and roots music into a sound that is both traditional and timeless for nearly twenty years. Brighter Days is the combo’s eighth album, recorded at Element Recording Studios in Kansas City, and it follows in the highly impressive footsteps made by the band’s previous release, 2013’s Blues And Trouble.

The first track on the album, “Another Lover”, opens with just a light snare drum and a funky descending minor key guitar riff before Redmond’s voice is joined by the full band. It’s a sharply written song, which builds in intensity and power behind a clever lyric of the certainty of love but the uncertainty about how to express it. Both “Another Lover” and the title track, which follows, successfully tread that fine line between modernizing the music while still respecting the genre’s strictures.  Without the horns, both songs could fall into a pop-rock categorization. With the horns and the backing vocals (contributed by all but one of the band), a very different sound emerges.  Indeed, the backing vocals are probably as important to the band’s sound as the horns, helping to emphasize the key vocal melodies of each song.   “Brighter Days” itself also benefits from one of Ryan Wurtz’s top drawer electric slide guitar solos, something he also dropped into songs on Blues And Trouble, to great effect.

Grand Marquis comprises Bryan Redmond on lead vocals and saxophones, Chad Boydston on trumpet and backing vocals (and flugelhorn on “Bad Seed”), Trevor Turla on trombone and backing vocals, Fritz Hutchison on drums and backing vocals (and Wurlitzer on “Many Rivers To Cross”), Ben Ruth on upright bass, sousaphone and backing vocals, and Ryan Wurtz on guitar.

There are seven original tracks on the album, all co-written by the band, together with a delightful cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers To Cross”, transforming the reggae ballad into a soul torch song, and the closing track, “Down By The Riverside”. The old spiritual is dunked in the waters of New Orleans and giving a swinging, ragtime treatment. The original tracks stand up against the classics.  There is the swinging rhumba of “I’m On Fire”, the New Orleans bounce of “Night Shift” with great trombone from Turla, and the funky instrumental, “It Don’t Matter”.  “Ain’t No Spark” is distinguished by Wurtz’s clever guitar lines following the vocal melody in the chorus, while the shuffle “Bad Seed” highlights the top drawer engine room work of Hutchison and Ruth.  All the musicians are first class, but it would be remiss not to mention Redmond’s excellent voice as well.

With nice packaging (including an insert with all the lyrics), cracking recording quality (hats off to engineer Joel Nanos), and sharply-written songs played with gusto and no little skill, Brighter Days is a highly enjoyable release. This isn’t a museum-quality facsimile of dusty, antiquated music. It is vibrant, exultant party music, informed by the best of the past, but with one foot squarely in the modern day.

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