America’s Got Talent Season Five winner Michael Grimm’s new release entitled Grimm is a twelve-song collection with strong musicianship and top-notch production values that empathizes his voice without obscuring the superb backing on each song. The Colorado native has an ever-growing reputation as an energetic and charismatic performer on both recordings and the stage. Grimm is no exception – the album’s dozen songs are enlivened by his unrelenting focus and inviting demeanor. Some might finish the album and decide that, clocking in at fifty minutes in length, cutting one or two songs improve the album. However, others can make the argument that Grimm aims for something, perhaps, a bit more substantial and ambitious than his earlier releases.
The opener, “Generation Exit”, supports the latter argument. Grimm is playing to a formula in many respects, but the track’s message and expansive treatment is an earnest effort to reach the widest possible audience. There’s no intimacy here – instead, “Generation Exit” positions Grimm as an exhorting force for the young. It’s never abysmal, but clichéd imagery fills the lyrics. The song’s highlights are exclusively musical. Despite the lyrical predictability, Grimm delivers them with breathless urgency. His dexterous voice is capable of invoking an array of moods and has a rich, atmospheric edge. The crackling neo-funk guitar and busy rhythm section are the true stars – their performance lends the song real rock energy that nicely contrasts with its clear pop sensibilities.
Guitar leads the way again on “She Drives Me Crazy” and the shuffle tempo gives it a lot of instant likeability. The chorus lacks the added lift listeners might expect in this song, but a rousing bridge redeems that and there’s a little light humor in the lyrics that helps make the song more memorable. “The Tide” opens with some evocative guitar and a nicely soulful vocal from Grimm. He reaches for a handful of roots rock authenticity here and has a tight grasp on how to make this material fly. A warm, muscular spirit pushes through in every line and Grimm’s bluesy power elevates a serviceable lyric into the realm of pure testimony.
“Roses” is another nod to the blues, swinging and pared close to the bone. Stripped back rhythm guitar and drums accompany Grimm in the beginning as he unwinds a Dixie-steeped tale of desperation and murder. He’s a knowing student of the genre who anchors the song’s lyrical content around imagery familiar to any longtime listener. The one complaint with this is that the slick production gives it a slightly disingenuous feel – this is skimming the surface of the form and there’s a disturbing lack of grit and sincerity at points in the song.
We get a brief peek at genuine intimacy in the opening seconds of “High School Stories” – Grimm’s light baritone aches with emotion as he sings the song’s opening lines without accompaniment. The band kicks in, however, and another breezy, guitar-driven trot confronts listeners and expands their distance from the material. “Lonely” explores new musical textures with its unusual tempo. The slightly slinky feel of the track and attractive vocal harmonies offset another cliche-riddled lyric. Grimm’s penultimate track, “1982”, has one of the album’s strongest musical grooves and another lightly humorous lyric. The rhythm section is a strength once again – the bobbing and dipping bass snakes around the backbeat to supreme effect. Grimm’s final song, “The Wind”, is a meditative closer that promises much, occasionally delivering a truly original image, but ultimately succumbs to a host of well-meaning tropes. It doesn’t dilute Michael Grimm’s clearly sincere and often moving vocal, but it does undercut the song’s potential.
There’s little question that Grimm would be a studier, less sprawling affair if the track selection process had been a little more exacting. Too many of the songs sound the same and when Grimm dares spread its wings and fly into new territory, unoriginal songwriting and formula hold back its potential. Grimm, as an album, is the story of potential thwarted. One can only hope that, next time, this great singer damns convention to hell and falls his muse wherever it may lead.
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