IMHO – James Grant

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Picture of - Love & Money Strange Kind Of LoveFor a period of about 6 months around the end of 1988 and the beginning of 1989, you couldn’t escape James Grant and Love and Money in the music press. “Jocelyn Square”, the third single from the band’s second album was an NME single of the week in March 1989, at a time when that accolade carried some prestige. High profile support tours of Japan and the USA followed to promote the album, “Strange Kind of Love” which was produced by Gary Katz (former Steely Dan producer).

The band were signed to Phonogram with a high-profile deal and everything seemed to be going in the right direction. “Strange Kind of Love” was well received by the critics and James Grant was hailed as a great singer and songwriter in his native Scotland and across the UK. The album sold well in the UK and the band were touring the world in support of it. What could go wrong?

Rewind to 1985; James Grant, Stuart Kerr and Paul McGeechan from the influential indie band Friends Again join forces with join up with Bobby Paterson to form Love and Money. The band signed a major deal with Phonogram and had a modest hit with “Candybar Express” in 1986. The first album “All You Need is..” didn’t trouble the UK album charts, but Phonogram responded by lining up Gary Katz to produce the follow-up.

The Steely Dan producer brought a tight, polished sound to the band’s funky arrangements on a great batch of songs and on its 1988 release “Strange Kind of Love” achieved critical acclaim as well as commercial success as the band toured extensively to try to break the lucrative territories of the USA and Japan. Unfortunately, this was the band’s critical and commercial high-water mark; so what happened next?

The third album, “The Mother’s Boy”, was submitted to Phonogram, who refused to release it. The band returned to the studio to start again and the result was “Dogs In Traffic”, released in 1991 and achieving a higher chart position than “Strange Kind of Love”. The album was produced with a lighter touch than their second and gained the same sort of respect from the critics and the fans, but it was too little and too late. The band’s commercial momentum had been lost in the 3 years between the second and third albums and it would never be regained. The band’s 4th album (or 5th if you count “The Mother’s Boy”), “Little Death”, was released in 1993 and again received favourable critical attention but made no impact on the charts and Love and Money called it a day.

The combination of a great baritone voice, huge talent as a guitar player and the ability to write great songs in a variety of different styles meant that James Grant would be very difficult to write off. 5 years after the demise of Love and Money , he released his first solo album “Sawdust in my Veins” in 1998 and released albums every 2 years until 2004, including a set of poems set to music (“I Shot the Albatross”) in 2002. Despite the lack of significant commercial success, the critics continued to show support, cementing James Grant’s reputation as one of the great British singer-songwriters of our time.

Picture of - James Grant Strange FlowersWhich brings us to 2009 and the release of the fifth solo album, “Strange Flowers”. The album features the usual selection of great Scottish musicians and a collection of songs that can be described as eclectic if you’re keen on understatement. The album opens with the uncharacteristically upbeat “This Could be the Day” which could be a Robbie Williams/Guy Chambers song on another day, possibly because the strings sound a little like the sample used on “Millennium”. The remaining 10 tracks on the album cover a wide range of styles from the dirty funk of “Can’t Beat the Music” through the dark brooding of the vampire song “Strange Flowers” to the traditional folk of “Scarecrow Song”. The lyrical themes are as diverse as the musical styles and the vocal and guitar performances are exceptional as always.

Even on an album of this quality, the song “My Father’s Coat” stands out as exceptional and has to be in the running for the most Scottish song ever written. It clocks in at nearly 10 minutes and is the centrepiece of the album; the rest of the songs are great but they all seem to be in orbit around this track. Musically, the song is based on a slow blues style guitar figure and very laid-back rhythm section while the subject matter of the lyrics is Scottish fathers and sons with local Glasgow colour in the shape of bars, bookies, flea markets and Goths all playing their part. But there’s more to it than that.

The production is crucial to the impact of the song; it leaves plenty of space in the mix to allow the instrumental parts to be clearly defined and the cracked emotion of the vocal to stand out without sounding strained. That just leaves the secret weapon; James Grant’s raw, powerful guitar solo which articulates the power of the narrative in a squall of controlled feedback and blistering technique and evokes late 70s era Neil Young (always a good thing) wringing out every last shred of emotion from the piece.

After around 30 years as a performer and songwriter, the fact that James Grant can still produce a piece of work which has all the invention and creativity you would expect to find on a debut album is tribute to a great talent and sheer determination. Add to this the experience gained through a turbulent career and you have an artist that everyone should listen to.

Do yourself a favour and listen to the albums “Strange Kind of Love”, “Dogs in Traffic” and “Strange Flowers” to get an idea of the power and range of the songwriting of James Grant. When you’ve done that, pay a visit to www.jamesgrantsongbook.com .

You won’t regret it.?