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Gran Torino: The One and Only

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I don’t pretend to be objective: I’ve been a Gran Torino fan since I first heard them play. I’ve got their three earlier self-produced releases, and I’ve worked with some of them on recording projects of my own. And anyway, I’ve got a weakness for funk bands with hot horn sections.

Having said that, the release of their new CD, The One and Only, was enough to lure me away from the never-ending demands of my own blog to post my first review here on BlogCritics.

Gran Torino is usually called a “seventies funk band,” and there’s a way in which that’s clearly right. But if you listen to their music (some samples are available at their site, www.grantorino.com) you’ll realize that while they seem to sound like a lot of seventies funk bands, they don’t actually sound like any of them in particular. Instead, they’ve blended elements of seventies funk, R&B, and even, ever so slightly, heavy metal into something that’s actually new, even though it sounds old. The closest analog is the way Creedence Clearwater Revival always seemed to be channeling something from rock and roll’s mythical past even though on closer examination they were actually doing something that hadn’t really been done before. Likewise, on “Viperden” the almost industrial-sounding drum intro and synth rhythms coexist comfortably with horn charts reminiscent of Chicago’s first few albums, back when they were a real band, somehow producing an overall feel that’s more like Steely Dan than anything else – but not really like Steely Dan, either.

The album doesn’t feature the kind of extended, loose jams that have made Gran Torino a bar-and-campus crowd-pleaser throughout the Southeast and East Coast for the past several years; unlike their previous releases this is a studio album first and foremost. The production, engineering, and mastering are first-rate, and the performances, honed on the road, hit the mark consistently.

I’ve never listened to these songs while cruising through Memphis in a big American convertible on a perfect spring day. Except that whenever I listen to them, I feel like I’m cruising through Memphis in a big American convertible on a perfect spring day, a day in a 1974 that never was, but that should have been.

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