Grushecky dusts off forgotten songs for new release
Joe Grushecky has always fronted talented rock bands capable of powering home his songs. But with his new release, the quiet and contemplative “It's in My Song,” he hopes another aspect of his artistry shines through.
“We've always had good lyrics on our records,” says Grushecky, who will perform March 19 with sax player Ed Manion at Club Cafe, South Side. “If anything, that's probably my strong suit. But a lot of times, they get overlooked because people want to dance and party.”
“It's in My Song” is predominately made up of forgotten songs culled from Grushecky's catalog. All the material was stripped down and re-recorded in bare-bones versions that allow the lyrics to be heard.
“There's probably more singing on it,” says Grushecky, laughing, adding that the album was mixed and recorded at Studio L in Weirton, W.Va., with producer Rick Witkowski. “It's not singing over a band. We had this really good old microphone and probably recorded 90 percent of the record with that microphone. It just has a real warm vibe.”
Many of the songs haven't been played in years, and a few — notably, “Rockola” from 1979's “Have a Good Time … but Get Out Alive!” and “When the Crows Go Crazy,” from 1981's “Swimming With the Sharks” (co-written with Mike Sweeney) — are unfamiliar to all but diehard fans.
The title track, however, is new. Grushecky found the inspiration for “It's in My Song” via a book about Sidney Bechet, the jazz saxophonist and composer who was a contemporary of Louis Armstrong.
“Bechet was talking about how a musician carries their place with them,” Grushecky says. “That's their place on Earth; wherever they are is their home. When they're up onstage, that's their home. When I read that, I actually put down the book and wrote that song. I thought, ‘This is the song I needed.' I had the rest of the record sitting around for months, but it wasn't finished yet until then.”
“It's in My Song” tips its cap to Bechet's jazz heritage via the trombone of Marcus Locke, the first time Grushecky has used that instrument on a record. Other songs have been dusted off and given new musical veneers. “Oh Kathleen” from “End of the Century” ranks with the Dormont resident's best work. A late addition to the 1992 release, it's arguably the strongest of the newly revised tunes, with Manion providing a soulful backdrop.
“As the years have gone by, I felt I really never did that song justice,” Grushecky says. “I thought it was some of my best poetry. It's really a love song, and I don't think it came across as good as it could.”
Other songs of note include “A Fool's Advice” from “Blood on the Bricks,” “Homestead” from “American Babylon,” “It's a Hell of a Life” from “Coming Home,” and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “The Silence of Your Arms,” both from “End of the Century.”
These songs were chosen because they are story-oriented and provide the performer with an opportunity to break down barriers that often exist at full-band shows.
“I learned that once I started doing acoustic shows, the focus is on the songs,” Grushecky says. “It's better when there are stories to tell. When the material is song-oriented, it becomes easier when you're playing acoustic shows. And if the crowd's with you, it's the best gig in the world.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.