Tell Tale Heart
The Avey Grouws Band hails from Quad Cities, Iowa, which is not your usual home for a blues-based unit. Yet, they have leveraged the strong impact of their 2020 The Devil May Care by hiring Grammy-winning engineer/producer Casey Wasner, who has worked with Keb’ Mo’,Taj Mahal, and most recently with Robben Ford on Ford’s release, Pure. Somehow the band retains its raw edge while broadening its scope to lean more heavily into rock and blues rock, driven by the powerhouse vocals of Jeni Grouws and the incendiary guitar of Chris Avey for Tell Tale Heart. The album was mostly written during pandemic shutdown and its lyrics encompass the threatening health crisis as well as social unrest.
The album begins with a heavy blues rock feel with “Love Raining Down” as Jeni belts out the lyrics and Avey goes to level ‘10’. It’s a little over the top for this writer but thankfully doesn’t presage the nice variety of tunes they eventually lay down. In fact, we get a bouncy, optimistic shuffle in “There For Me” as Jeni pays thanks the many friends who were there for her during the many lonely pandemic moments and to the thousands of online viewers who tuned into the 102 performances the band streamed live. Nick Vasquez’s piano and Avey’s soaring guitar add to the good vibe. While “Bad, Bad, Year” is rife with too many blues-rock cliches “Hanging Around” returns to an infectious, breezy, power pop stance.
The title track has Jeni delivering the deep, smoldering slow blues that will induce both tears and raving applause as Avey rips out a spine tingling solo. Avey takes his extended turn of the spacey Pink Floyd like guitar vehicle, “Mariana.” Changing it up yet again, they deliver the lilting, acoustic “Daylight.” Blues funk colors “Heart’s Playing Tricks” and they barely contain their exhilarating joy in “We’re Gonna Roll,” leading to the closing piano-driven “Eye to Eye” where both principals playfully spar in the disc’s only vocal duet.
On their sophomore effort, the Avey Grouws Band widens their scope, proving they are no one trick pony. Producer Wasner pushes them out of their comfort zone in a few spots and one gets the sense that the band is still experimenting to some extent, looking to still define a signature sound that will separate them from so many others in blues-rock. They offer enough evidence here to suggest they will arrive there soon.
- Jim Hynes