Idiot Grins recently released State of Health. The band is made up of Michael Conner on organ, piano, clavinet, harmonica, and synths; Evan Eustis on bass, backup vocals, mandolin, and lead vocals; John Hansen on lead vocals and backup vocals, electric piano, and accordion; Michael Melgoza plays drums and sings backup; and Randy Strauss plays guitar and lap steel.
State of Health highlights the guest talents of: Lauren, Lena, and Lisa Byrd, aka The Byrd Sisters on background vocals; Johnnie Bamont on sax; Jeff Cressman on trombone; and Marvin McFadden on trumpet. Renee Jenkins plays trombone on “Dream,” Joe Goldmark on pedal steel, and David Frazier is on percussion.
Hailing from Oakland, California, the band blends soul, R&B, Americana, funk, and country rock into a sound reminiscent of the ‘70s, when Isaac Hayes was the coolest musician around. Of course, that was then and this is now. But music is similar to fashion, where the outmoded returns to become the avant-garde. And that’s precisely what the Idiot Grins do on State of Health – resurrect the persistent, flamboyant grooves, gooey wah-wah pedals, fluid vocal harmonies, and the braying brass of Hayes’ blend of psychedelia, soul, and deep southern blues.
Highlights on the album include: “Get Busy Dying,” a dynamite soul number full of bright horns and the radiant harmonies of The Byrd Sisters. I love the intro on this song, the way it simmers with bubbling energy and then takes off. This is probably the best song on the album. “Philly Belly Cheesy” reminds me of Otis Redding, with its flowing harmonic colors and soft rhythm punctuated by evocative horns.
“Build It” delivers funky R&B flavors, lustrous vocal harmonies and an incandescent guitar solo. The silky soul sound of “Unkind” oozes gentle colors, warm and shimmering. The horns exude tender tones that almost balance out the high tenor of the lead vocals, which don’t quite work.
The unadulterated funkiness of “Televised” is potent, especially when attended by the da-woop harmonies of The Byrd Sisters. “Mama’s Tears” drips with country and soul flavors that are made even more compelling by the drawling steel guitar and warbling keyboards.
“Breathe” opens with twangy, drawling guitars which lead into a SoCal country rock tune that almost seems out of place, as if Poco inserted a song. It’s a pretty song, nonetheless.
State of Health is a tasty album. The melodies are strong, dipped in retro harmonics, while the vocal harmonies, especially the dulcet tones of The Byrd Sisters, infuse the music with delicious tones.