Grass Wolf – Moonshine

 Grass Wolf – Moonshine

Grass Wolf – Moonshine – EP Review

If you tuned into the last episode of the SBS Podcast, you heard a double-shot sample of the brand-new EP called Moonshine by Grass Wolf through a couple of covers we played from the five song set they’ve just put out.  I mentioned on the show how quite often, as a music critic/reviewer-guy, I tend to get a few details, but not always ALL of them – and in situations like these, I usually assume it’s because a band like Grass Wolf wants to find out exactly who’s paying close attention, and who’s not.  No matter what time of day it is, I’m awake folks – I promise ya…I might not get everything right all the time, but like I had said on our show, you can pick up clues in the titles you see sometimes, especially music you listen to on the regular.  When I saw “Float On” in the lineup of songs on Moonshine, sitting right next to another track called “I Am The Walrus” – I started to put two & two together.  It’d be beyond rare to find ANOTHER song called “I Am The Walrus” than the one you know by The Beatles, right?  So it made sense that the “Float On” I was seeing was also a cover…chances are by Modest Mouse from what I’d probably consider their best record to this very day – or at the very least, the album that made me a massive fan of the band in Good News For People Who Love Bad News.  Then it was a matter of finally decoding the rest…I could see “Uprising,” which I assumed was from Muse – same era as Modest Mouse more or less, so that made sense as my next assumption.  The other two tracks Grass Wolf chose to cover for their debut record were tougher for me…songs I didn’t recognize as easily, but I eventually tracked them all down too; like a dog on a hunt, I knew I was onto something, even though all I had was the titles & music to go on.  The final tracks were more elusive at first as I didn’t recognize them, but I now know came from Penpals (“Tell Me Why”) and Ted Poley & Tony Harnell (“Escape From The City”).

What can I say?  I’d make a great detective if crimes were solved by knowing things about music.

Anyhow!  We’re off & running…play has been pushed long ago now & I can verifiably say I enjoyed every single one of these tunes in this set of five on Moonshine – Grass Wolf has a great vibe goin’ on and they’re competent players that play on a unified front.  It’s rare that you hear a whole bunch of covers and still feel like you actually got to know a band, but that’s the real effect of listening to what they’ve come up with on the Moonshine EP.  For myself personally, it’s probably fair to say they started the record off with what became my least favorite of the five songs in the lineup – but that certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t like what I heard.  “Tell Me Why” is a great tune and it came out well here in this Grass Wolf cover – there’s no doubt about that – all I’m saying is that they’ve got even greater ones in the lineup to follow.  This cut’s kind of got that mid-90s magic workin’ for them…think something along the lines of those bands that burned bright underneath the mainstream like Echobelly back in the day – or if you’re here in Canada where I’m at, you’ll hear the guitars and think of a band like Treble Charger and hits they had from the same era like “Friend Of Mine” & whatnot.  You know what I’m talkin’ about…those squealin’ guitar tones and the addictive crunch of distortion meeting the sensationally smooth melodies you can’t help but love – Grass Wolf put out a solid sound straight from track one and keep the lineup of this debut EP offering something unique for ya in their song selection as it plays on.

LISTEN to the bassist in this band will ya?  Remarkable stuff!  The presence was felt right away in track one – but if for some reason the impact escaped ya, you’ll discover just how essential it is to the music of Grass Wolf on the cover of “Float On” afterwards.  Right there in the intro, you’ll hear the skillful musicianship & instrumentation of this band work brilliantly with the killer rhythm & groove of this tune – it’s a slight bit up-tempo from the original in some ways…yet they keep so much of it intact melodically too…it’s very impressive to hear.  I absolutely LOVE the way the vocals came out in this tune as well, but to be completely fair, I felt like the entire band was completely into this track, and you feel it as a result.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed “Tell Me Why” as well as the EP began, but it’s tracks like “Float On” that reveal just how strong this band can be when they’re all on the same page and equally into the material they’ve chosen to play.  Like, there’s not a doubt in my mind that every single member of the band has serious love for Modest Mouse based on what I’m hearing in this cover – it’s no easy tune to take on, and Grass Wolf should be extraordinarily pleased with, and proud of, all the results they achieved here.  It’s fair to be said that, if you CAN find your way through this song and hold your own, “Float On” is written with such exceptional melodic magic and genuine charm that it’s a cut that can’t help but catch the attention of anyone & everyone listening…but if you’re lucky enough to be able to not just play it, but play it like Grass Wolf does with this level of confidence in covering it, it’s that much more special.

They’re playing things SMART y’all…have a listen & really pay attention.  Mix-wise, I love what they’ve come up with on their cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus” – I’m 100% stoked on the distance they’ve put into the vocals and where they sit relative to the music you’ll hear…it’s straight up sonically clever, and pretty much perfection by its very definition.  Full proof that when you’ve got the right personality on the mic, which make no mistake, Grass Wolf DOES – you don’t need your front-person to be the loudest thing we hear in a song…the right personalities always shine through, and that’s exactly what you’ll find creates the real magic at the core of this cover.  That being said, the bonus points here go to the guitars this time around…not only are they played freakin’ brilliantly, but they also sound absolutely spectacular in the mix as well.  A pure atmospheric blend of frequency & tone & melody & madness…I mean…The Beatles would even love this version y’all!  And that’s why I couldn’t just play ONE song on the last episode of the SBS Podcast – this cut was a true achievement and a great spin on a cut that so many people out there around the world are extremely familiar with…to hear how something old became so significantly new again through the way they played this song should truly earn them an award.  I thought it came out fantastic, from start to finish, full stop.  It might not have been my FAVORITE cut from the EP, but it came pretty close…to be truthful, I felt like the four songs that came after “Tell Me Why” all took turns over this past month or so of me listening to this record as my favorite cut…at least for a moment or two – but I’ll admit, there is also one track that always felt like it stole the show for me as well – and that’s the next one up, called “Escape From The City” from Sonic 2.

To be clear, I think that was the only detail I didn’t get right when I was originally playing their music on the SBS Podcast…I think I mentioned this track being from the second Sonic The Hedgehog movie, and I believe…if I’m getting this right…it’s actually from the GAME that was released way back in the day.  I’m still trying to pin all these details down…all I can tell ya for sure is that it was written by Ted Poley and Tony Harnell, and that it’s like…SO ADDICTIVE that it’s never left the rotation of my playlist since I first started listening to it.  I mentioned how Grass Wolf has a similar energy to Echobelly’s music earlier on in this review, and this is basically how I prove that to ya…I used to throw on “Insomniac” every time I needed a boost of energy to carry me out of a mood, or just put me in a great one for the day – and this cover of “Escape From The City” possesses that same spirited magic for me.  Like…it’d be impossible to be in a bad mood by the time this song was over, you know what I mean?  You might start out in one – but by the time Grass Wolf works their charm on ya through the way they hit the hooks of the melody in this cover straight outta the park, you can’t help but feel better about your whole day just by listening to it – make sense?  They could brighten the darkest of days with a single spin of this song…and perhaps of anything I could say about “Escape From The City,” that’ll remain the biggest compliment I could ever give it.  It’s inspired, it’s beautiful, it’s bold…it’s vibrant and ALIVE…there wasn’t a thing I felt like they missed or could have done better…it’s just a straight-up knockout, and I felt like even amongst a lineup full of covers that are all gems for their own reasons, “Escape From The City” still stood out strongly apart from the rest as the record’s very best tune.  That COULD be just my opinion…honestly, I wouldn’t blame any of you for picking any of these five cuts as your own favorites…personally, I’m a melody-guy, that’s what speaks the strongest to me in anything I’m listening to, and that’s the part that stands out the most when you listen to Grass Wolf head into the chorus of “Escape From The City” and nail it every bit as hard as they do.  It’s SONIC PERFECTION…don’t mind me if I lay a huge PUN out there for ya!  I might have been out to lunch on where it originally came from when I first did our show and played this song along with “I Am The Walrus” on our podcast…but I think I’ve got the details right now.  The real bottom line is, they put a whole lotta heart into this cover and I could never get enough of it – full props!

As they finished off the record with “Uprising” – the fact that Grass Wolf has such pronounced bass-lines in their music pays off extremely well for them in covering Muse…and you’d need that in my opinion, if you’re gonna pull it off right, you know?  I dig the extra effects on the vocals as well…though I’ll admit, the lead-singer in this band has an equally enticing voice au-naturale like we’ve heard in the other tracks too…I suppose it’s a matter of personal preference in terms of what you might like best, but I’m stoked we got a chance to hear her in a variety of ways throughout this EP’s lineup.  “Uprising” is a straight-up kickass song…let’s be clear about that – but let’s also be clear about the fact that following Muse’s lead is no easy task either…they’re an incredible band with a whole lot of skill…incredible players, great singer…truly a tough act to follow.  I’m more of a fan of their earlier work, but I completely appreciate the way their sound slicked out stylistically over time as well.  Anyhow.  What’s extremely impressive about how Grass Wolf played this final cut, is that you won’t actually miss Muse at all!  You won’t listen to “Uprising” and feel like this or that could have been done better, or be pining for the original – Grass Wolf freakin’ slayed this final track with the serious groove and stellar effects required to pull this song off, and quite honestly, people are gonna love how perfectly they nailed it.  Pick a card, any card folks – you can’t ask for an EP full of covers that will produce much better results than what you’ll find on this shiny Moonshine record right here…I’m definitely looking forward to hearing where Grass Wolf will go from here forward.  They’re clearly influenced by a whole lot of the same music I know and love myself, they’ve got great instincts to go with their stellar musicianship, there’s no obvious weak points in this band that I could pick out, and nothing I’d wanna change – that’s not a bad way to start out your career!

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