In the short time since the band formed in 2017 (after, in Jeni Grouws own words, “a wild New Year’s Eve party in Decorah, Iowa, the Avey Grouws Band was born in the midst of a cleanup and a few hangovers”) The Avey Grouws Band they have won Iowa and were semi-finalists in the International Blues Challenges and released an EP in 2018…not a bad start!
They also released their debut album in 2020 called The Devil may Care; recorded before, but released at the start of the damnable pandemic, they haven’t had time to tour on its undoubted strengths.
The band manage to blend many genres into their music and, although not fitting any particular (and, frankly irrelevant, pigeon hole, they do deliver what we at Bluesdoodles love: blues, rock, roots and even folk. By the way, even the mighty Google has struggled to give me details on the origins and pronunciation of Jeni Grouws’ surname; the best guess the internet came up with sounded like Stephen Hawking saying “gross”…apologies to Jeni if that is wrong and please feel free to let me know the correct way and/or history.
How does this translate to vinyl/polycarbonate (CD)/digital? Well, the first track is indisputably evidence of a natural approach; with the strong vocals surfing the riff, the swinging organ and a neat guitar solo to round it off: Come And Get This Love has all of that wrapped in a bluesy, R’n’B structure…put it this way, if I lived in Iowa, I’d be round there like a shot!
The title track, The Devil May Care, has a similar but different feel that draws you in both lyrically and riffically and we get a lovely sparse, picked guitar solo too and the picking and chord work on the outro and fade is even better. Rise Up is bluesy, rocky and the band knits together brilliantly as the lyrics rail against injustice; the guitar solo is built on the best foundations…no noodling, just the right amount of notes at the right time and the key solo behind the fade is worth the wait too. Let’s Take It Slow takes us, spiritually, to Memphis with its soul leanings but is saved by another great vocal and guitar solo of taste and tone. Long Road is difficult to define: I keep wanting to say heavy rock does folk due to the hefty riffs alternating with acoustic interludes for the verses…but when the slide solo cuts in brilliantly (way too short!) I think I’m right. Not surprisingly, Let Me Sing The Blues, is errr, blues complete with rolling piano and clever use of a familiar blues riff. The inspired piano solo makes it a keeper.
Weary is next with lashings of acoustic guitar in folkish song but with an enthralling lilt and vocal melody that stays with you and a really tasteful electric slide solo. Dirty Little Secret has me (metaphorically) packing my bags for Iowa yet again…over a Latin rhythm and a very Santana influenced solo that makes you wish the song was longer. Dig What You Do has Chris Avey joining in on vocals as they duet on this nice little rocker…it may be a familiar riff, but it still works and the piano and guitar solos cleverly celebrate the melodies. Final track, Two Days Off (And A Little Bit of Liquor), apart from an inviting title brings the horns out to play and the whole jazz lounge experience makes you want to raise a glass. The sung/spoken lyrics tell a great tale and then we get a jazzy toned, clever guitar solo to wrap it all up neatly.
This is a really enjoyable debut and I can only hope that, when this dreaded lurgy is under control, that they come back fighting and deliver a second album just as strong.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws; a Wonderful and varied album that will satisfy lovers of music across the genres.
1. Come And Get This Love
2. The Devil May Care
3. Rise Up
4. Let’s Take It Slow
5. Long Road
6. Let Me Sing My Blues
8. Dirty Little Secret
9. Dig What You Do
10. Two Days Off (And A Little Bit Of Liquor)
Jeni Grouws – vocals
Chris Avey – vocals/guitar
Randy Leasman – bass
Bryan West – drums
Nick Vasquez – keys
Nolan Schroeder – sax on track 10
Dan Meier – trumpet on track 10
All songs written by Jeni Grouws and Chris Avey
Produced and Mixed by Travis Huisman
Recorded at Catamount Recording, Cedar Falls, Iowa
(iTunes took me back to my time at home in the North East at the height of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and the Geordie band, Axe, with the rather good S.S Giro track – they did become Fist shortly after but having seen them before that at, I think, the Mayfair, they will forever be Axe to me.)