Don’t be deceived, Idiot Grins is far from a big laugh. It’s actually what people from some parts of the world refer to as histoire d’amour. A couple of dudes from the Bay Area, led by guitarist Randy Strauss, are in love with the roots of R&B. They worship at the alter of Stax Records, the label that introduced the world to such names as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave and Booker T. To those who consider Chris Brown and Trey Songz old hands, these names might not mean much. But anyone who appreciates their music will have a healthy reverence for these founding fathers of soul.
Which is what all five members of Idiot Grins have in spades. Not long after Strauss, keyboardist Michael Conner, bassist Evan Eustis, vocalist John Hansen and drummer Michael Melgoza came together, they released their debut album ‘Quarry’. It was an earnest self-released effort that was applauded and battered in equal measure. A local publication called the LP “charming but torpid”. But the criticism only served to inspire the quintet as they went into Strauss’ state-of-the-art home studio to work on their second album. They were determined to go for broke this time out, bringing on board respected sax player Johnny Bamont who played for Huey Lewis and the News during their heyday in the 80s. To add even more punch to the horn section they also tapped up Mic Gillette, a renowned trumpeter who worked with East Bay R&B greats Tower of Power.
The crowning achievement for Idiot Grins in the making of their sophomore was being able to master it at the hallowed Ardent Studios in Memphis. Some of the same equipment that produced some of Stax Records’ biggest hits was used to polish the sound on ‘Big Man’. On top of replicating the brand of soul they cherish on their new record, Idiot Grins have added a new dimension to their sound. Randy and his bandmates are country-rock geeks and they chose to let it show on their new album. On songs like ‘Paso Robles’ Randy plays the same guitar legend Gram Parsons used in his last album and on his final tour. The result is a solid set of 11 tracks where country and soul lie peacefully side by side. Only let-down for me in Big Man is John Hansen’s performance as lead vocalist. Demanding soul numbers like ‘One Reason’ expose him as unpolished and lacking the necessary finesse to make seamless transitions between forceful and gentle crooning.
Cop this April release here as you look out for more Idiot Grins in the near future.
Miami Based, Internationally Known