America’s Got Talent Season 5 winner Michael Grimm‘s sixth album, Grimm, features songwriting that’s sophisticated and catchy, with earthy guitar-driven arrangements, clear and expressly masculine vocals, and melodic hooks, all of which give the album a not-of-its-time flavor. You can hear why it made sense to send Grimm on tour with Stevie Nicks and Heart after his 2010 AGT win.
Sometimes the retro qualities of Grimm’s work are explicit, as with the clear echoes of Bad Company in “The Tide,” the bass quote from the O’Jays’ “For The Love Of Money” in the ironically themed “Generation Next,” and the rhythmic borrowing from the old Supremes hit “My World Is Empty Without You” in “She Drives Me Crazy” (which borrows only its title from the Fine Young Cannibals hit). But there’s nothing wrong with paying homage to great predecessors, and anyway there’s enough originality in most of the songs (written primarily by Grimm and Kevin Hunter) to keep the term “retro” at just enough of a distance.
Stylistic twists give some of the songs an interesting element of surprise, too. “Tragic Figures” offers a curious juxtaposition of a plodding garage-rock beat and a Police-like melody, with unexpected cross-rhythms sneaking in as well.
An unthreatening, often gentle tone informs the sensibility of the album overall, exemplified in the mid-tempo pop-rock of “Black and White” and the easy adult-contemporary groove of “Lonely.” But a welcome variety of styles and influences rises from this bed – blue-eyed soul, ’70s guitar pop, blues, even slippery country-rock. (“Roses” makes me think of Alannah Myles’s “Black Velvet.”) There are some fine choruses, as in “Black and White.”
Grimm addresses his evident love of past musical trends explicitly in the dream lyrics of “1982,” with music that echoes the soft new-wave of Billy Joel’s 1980 Glass Houses album: “It’s a retro reality…Say my good mornings to yesterday…She said my future was missing me, come on.”
I’m sure part of my positive response to Grimm comes from the fact that I grew up listening to the kinds of music it pays tribute to. But another part of it arises from the high-quality songwriting and musicianship, the melodicism, the literate lyrics, and the strong vocals – a pretty powerful formula.