Smokin' Granny - "Sirius Matter"
(Metaphoric Music Productions 1999, MMP 149027-9909)
From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
Phwewww.... finally these guys have got a full-length CD out. Well they've had a cassette out since '97 but too many people are afraid of cassettes so a CD has been needed. Anyway, Smokin' Granny for me were one of those bands who came out on a stage, I had no idea who they were, and they proceeded to blow my mind with their instrumental jazzy, spacey, but heavy rockin' semi-avant progressive rock. "Smokin'" is not just the band name... it's a description. The core of the North Carolina based Grannies is Todd Barbee on saxophones and WX7 midi wind controller ('the midi' for review purposes), Jeffery Damon Lindsey on drums & percussion, Brian Preston on bass, and David Oskardmay on guitars and effects. They are joined on a few tracks by guests John Heitzenrater on guitars and bassoon, and Steve Hatch (from Volaré) on guitars.
When I first reviewed Smokin' Granny nearly two years ago I used bands like Curlew and Dr. Nerve as comparisons and noted they would fit well with the New York Downtown sound bands. Their 1997 "Live at the Bat Cave" cassette tracks are included on this CD release and on those tracks in particular I suppose the comparison gives a decent frame of reference. But Smokin' Granny can really rock out in their wild jazzy way.
The band also has a knack for 'stick in yer head' riffs that form the backbone of songs and suck you in for an attentive listen to the madness. From the earlier '97 sessions, "Edible Polymers" and "Squid" each have a main sax riff that you can't get rid of. On Polymers, Barbee's sax absolutely wails and on "Squid" the band really rocks out Granny style. Among the later '98 tracks, "Barnacle Bob's Big Bang Bonanza" has a heavy funky bass and weaves aggressive segments with more laid back moments in which more is happening at once instrumentally than on many other tunes. "Moveable Feast" is another memorable riff tune that starts off easy going and then rocks out with 'the midi' playing something of a keyboard role. The horn melody really soars making this one of the Granny's more emotional tunes.
Other standout tracks include "Neural Pulse", a three part 9 min tune in which we travel through multiple mood changes including the Transmission, Reception, and Response phases of the tune... from heavy Granny rockin' to quieter segments in which we float along on Todd's 'the midi'. Listen close to hear all the really great guitar sounds. "Crankcase" is the song that reminded me of Curlew, but is a real rocker. Blistering guitar and freaked out sax join forces for a a rockin' assault. "Alien Space Journey" has the 'midi' again in a heavy keyboard role. This is an aptly titled tune that trips along slowly for a bit until blasting off. Lots of intricate little guitar lines trade off with the sax.
Finally, "Toad Pizza" and "Road To The Desert" are what, for Smokin' Granny, seem like more 'normal' paced rockers. "Toad Pizza" is almost dancable, but still distinctly Granny. The tune has some great tasteful guitar licks and Barbee embellishes the tune with midi.
In summary, Smokin' Granny is a must for fans of complex, but accessible instrumental progressive with a jazz influence. But it's NOT fusion. And it's definitely 'out there' in a way that space fans would like. In fact, after listening to them for two years and two live experiences I can detect a distinct Smokin' Granny sound. Not an easy thing to do.
You can visit Smokin' Granny at their web site.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz