Gravel & Grace
Bringing The Blues
Ava Grace Music
Modesto California’s Big Earl Matthews is a twenty-year veteran of the local blues scene. He is bandleader of “Big Earl and the Cryin’ Shame” and an intense organizer of jams and events. He is also a member of the blues and roots band the “Poorhouse Millionaires”.
Ava Grace Merchant is a seventeen-year-old junior at Oakdale High School with, family in Mississippi and, a passion for singing the blues. Ava has been performing professionally since she was fourteen, and the distance between Oakdale and Modesto is only twelve miles, so it was just a matter of time before their mutual love of music would cause Ava and Big Earl to cross paths. It was in a Modesto coffee shop that Big Earl first heard Ava sing. That day everything changed as the idea to form a band soon became a reality.
Gravel & Grace are a seven-piece rhythm and blues ensemble comprised of some of the Central Valley’s best instrumentalists. The band includes lead vocalists Ava Grace and Big Earl; guitarists Ricky Galvan and Isaac Lewis; keyboardist Bart Szopinski; saxophonist Will Melendez; bassist Josh Broom; and drummer Vasira (who also plays with the “Poorhouse Millionaires”. The album is produced by harp ace John Clifton and recorded at Fresno’s Wolf Studios.
The opener “Scares Me” was co-written by Big Earl, Ava, and Vasira, and features Ava’s authoritative vocal. “Next Move” from Big Earl and Vasira, features a gravelly throated but clear vocal from Earl and further explains the band’s name. Ava’s soulful “Bottles” once again features her powerful lead. Melendez’ sweet saxophone adorns these first three.
The country-ish “When I’m Hungover” is a vocal duet written by bassist Broom. The only cover is the sexy “Love On The Brain” written by Rihanna and first recorded in 2016; sung by Ava, the new version is doo-wop styled. The jazzy “Sunday Afternoon” also from Big Earl and Vasira, is another well sung song by Earl. Ava’s “Not About A Boy” is a compelling vocal with solos from both Melendez and Earl. The New Orleans inspired “Picture Perfect”, again from Big Earl and Vasira, features some nice keyboard work from Szopinski, and the lyric “she’s picture perfect, but practically insane”. Ava’s poppy “Pennies” is another dynamic vocal and the first song chosen for radio. “Wash My Blues” is another song, from the team of Earl and Vasira, soulfully sung by Earl.
This band has been creating considerable waves and recently been nominated for a Modesto Area Music Award. The album is a fine introduction to the passion of Gravel & Grace.