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The Grafenberg Disciples: Johnny On The Spot

I’m all for blending styles and blurring genre boundaries. In many ways that’s the essence of what allows progressive music to actually progress and that’s exactly what the California based outfit The Grafenberg Disciples are doing. And kudos to them because they’re are few bands out there these days looking to spread out musically while sitting in a soulful, loosely funky, almost West Coast space. Something I’d suggest that this band, led by the duo of Hans Eberbach (vocals) and Bob Madsen (bass) - the latter of which SoT regulars might know from the interestingly off the wall 41point9 - are more than happy to attempt to do. Along the way many comparisons to the likes of Level 42, Prince, Marvin Gaye and Toad The Wet Sprocket have been gained and I’d personally add - especially vocally - Huey Lewis & The News, Hue & Cry and Marc Cohn to that odd little list. Truthfully, other than Mr Lewis and his band, not much on that roll call does it for me and it’s baggage I can’t quite shake off as an album that instrumentally tries to reach much further than you might think in terms of virtuosity and arrangement, sounds like it’s being fronted by a voice that, to me anyway, just doesn’t click into place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Eberbach is a cracking, accomplished singer, channelling Cohn, Lewis and Pat Kane (Hue & Cry) quite magnificently, but when “The Man Who Would Be King” combines its overly exuberant bass slaps to a cracking staccato riff that reminds of Saga, it wasn’t a smooth pop meets R&B voice that I expected to take up the charge - impressive though it is. In the end, to me it all feels like a compromise, where music that wants to be pop, funk, rock, prog and soul all at the same time is then fronted by a voice that adds a smoothness that simply doesn’t resolve the stylistic questions - with all this pushing and pulling for direction resulting in no outright winner.

It’s an issue throughout for me, where a singer who is utterly magnificent simply doesn’t set my own personal juices flowing. Add in what feel like a lot of little 80s flicks, tricks and inflections and right across this album I can’t quite get over the feeling that even with the likes of Chad Quist (guitar), Jerry Merrill (keyboards) and Gregg Bissonnette (drums) adding some serious musical clout to “The Girl With The Broken Smile”, “Fields Of Sky-Blue Pink” and “No Words”, everything just feels watered down and toothless.

In reality, the ‘issue’ here is probably more mine than it is that of The Grafenberg Disciples, because these guys are good - if hardly varied - at what they do. However, very little of the intention behind this album appeals to my own musical passions and, while admiration can be gained, that’s never a hurdle that’s likely to be overcome.

Track Listing
1. Dying To Live
2. The Man Who Would Be King
3. No Words
4. She Lay Sleeping
5. A Madman’s Lullaby
6. The Girl With The Broken Smile
7. In A Moment
8. Fields Of Sky-Blue Pink
9. Music On The Wind (For S.O.B.)

Added: October 2nd 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Grafenberg Disciples online
Hits: 803
Language: english

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