Superb hooky rhythms and in general, lots happening with Jim Zhivago (who also produced the album), Blake Fleming and Rich Hinman in support to his own acoustic, electric guitar, banjo and harp —the music is tight and such is the energy and creative flare of Gripka there are no holes or lack of fullness. Israel’s music and vocals have some John Fogerty tendencies as he swamps the listener with the likes of ‘Pray For Rain’. A particularly impressive piece that same wall to wall feel as he opens in fine style. Since the first cut, ‘Evening’ is likewise a strong track. Much credit must also go to the sidemen since Fleming (drums, percussion) and Zhivago (electric guitar, bass, organ, percussion, piano etc) pull in the same direction.
Born in the Mid-West, and now residing in Brooklyn, Gripka’s regular relentless style is well tempered with the likes of the reflective heartache filled ‘You Were Right’. That contains pedal steel, organ and percussion to aid his fabulous world-weary tones (eat your heart out Fogerty, Springsteen etc). A little haunting, it tugs at the heart of the listener as he speaks of an old love, and with a plaintive edge ‘Let Me down’ (that contains some low-key and effective banjo from Israel alongside equally essential organ) shuffles along in an engaging fashion. On upping his show of passion ‘Concrete’ contains a far greater urgency as to the accompaniment of harmonica, organ, banjo and guitar he presses on and upward. To keep it company you have the sublime, heart-wrenching, pedal steel guitar (Hinman) barroom ballad, ‘Pink Long-Stem Rose’ that possesses hints of the traditional ‘Lilly Of the West’. With Gripka’s fine lyrics augmented by a near regal melody it is something I want to hear again and again and, I don’t get to say that every day.
Although one or two songs are less than riveting, and arguably a little wearisome as in closing track ‘Beautiful’ (and ‘Confess’) he is nevertheless an emerging act I recommend and if justice is done since he already has the talent go on to greater and better things.
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