Grand Canyon - Le Grand Cañon - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Grand Canyon - Le Grand Cañon

by Howard Scott Rating:9 Release Date:2018-11-02
Grand Canyon - Le Grand Cañon
Grand Canyon - Le Grand Cañon

The west coast wasn’t the birthplace of American rock and roll, but it certainly matured there. What started with the early works of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the Safaris soon morphed into the heavier works of bands like the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. A few years later, groups like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Eagles polished and redefined the California sound to create a genre unique to the geography.

Now, almost 50 years later, Grand Canyon, a Los Angeles based six piece band, is reaching back into this storied history to recreate the sounds of the seventies on their first LP entitled “Le Grand Cañon”. They describe their signature sound as “the antithesis of modern pop music”, and that is a fairly apt description. There aren’t any synth-driven walls of sound here. The most exotic piece of instrumentation in their possession seems to be an electric piano.

Frontman/guitarist Casey Shea shares lead vocals with Amy Wilcox, and guitarist Joe Guese collaborates with Shea on the writing. Jon Cornell (bass) and Fitz Harris (drums) compose the band’s rhythm section while the keyboards are handled by Darice Bailey, who also contributes backing vocals.

Opener “Lucinda” starts as a bare-bones tune with muffled percussion behind Shea’s vocal. The rest of the band quickly jumps into gear and gives the listener an instant trip back in time to a place where Rickenbacker 12 strings ruled the radio and melody and great songwriting overruled fancy foot pedals and black box keyboards.

The influence of the Joe Walsh driven James Gang can be heard in “Standing in the Shadows”. Shea and Wilcox create a strong vocal combination backed with hard driving guitars and a bedrock bass/drum platform. Again, production is sparse but meaty. The fact that we get a feeling of having been here before is prevailing, but also comforting.

“Heaven” is the kind of tune that made those of us who were functioning members of society in the 70’s wantonly spend too much of our income on really good stereos and lots of vinyl. A dark electric piano riff melts into the guitar/bass/drum ingredients to create a beautiful example of song creation. Wilcox’s voice really shines on this one as she mournfully sings of a heaven somewhat lacking while the lead guitar tears up the ambiance behind her. This one should be a single if I’m getting to pick.

Heavier guitar riffs introduce “Made in LA” which is a descriptive travelogue of life and places in the epicenter of all things southern Californian. Both lead vocalists mold a strong chorus which gives us a minds-eye view of the grittier side of paradise.

“Hanger On” kicks back to the keyboard/guitar mix and allows Wilcox to echo the best of Sheryl Crow. Shea also contributes to give later verses a he-said, she-said vocal which adds a bit of drama to a skillfully constructed gem. Single number two? (or maybe the B side!)

Shea has a bit of Tom Petty’s vocal intonation, but “I Don’t Wanna Wait” adds a melodic structure that doubles down on that iconic sound. The male/female vocal is used uniquely here to give a double plot to the lyric. What Shea is singing about and what Wilcox adds sound like the same story told from two very different points of view. Men are from Mars, women are..well, you know.

The group goes off in a completely different direction for “Shangri La-La Land”. This cut sounds like it was recorded by a mariachi band playing a dark and dank joint in El Paso. It sent me way back in time to the years when Gene Pitney was using his unique voice to sing of blasting Liberty Valance and coming a little bit closer. The unexpected addition of a horn solo further enhances the atmosphere.  This one is pure fun and really shines a bright light on the instrumental capabilities present here. Lyrics of "Even the greats have bad nights / some have bad years. /  Sometimes its hard to tell which is which around here." add to the enjoyment of this diamond in the rough.

We escape the west coast completely in “Kansas City” which musically reminisces about the Midwestern roots of the writer. There is an emotion of “You can’t go home again” voiced here, even though most of us never stop trying. A galloping backdrop drives the pleading vocal while the bass and percussion push the song at an accelerated pace.

Darice Bailey’s piano shines on “Theory of Everything” while the twin vocalists exchange verses dealing with characters living in less than great conditions. “I was there when it all began/ Had a beer while I drew up the plans / So you may not be here at all / You may never be here again.” forms the chorus to close out the record on a sorrowful note.

Regardless of how the recording ended, I found Le Grand Cañon to be a refreshing and exhilarating ride back into yesteryear when prog-rock and electronic-based sound were still off in the distant fog. The fact that this is Grand Canyon’s debut album makes this accomplishment even more remarkable. Imitating classic rock isn’t really that tough, but taking that same vintage resonance and making it your own is a task few players are interested in attempting. Grand Canyon accepted the challenge with this recording and comes out on top with a flourish.

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