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Articles and Reviews

2011-2012

Mariage totalement réussi et régal de sonorités country blues un poil folk trad, qui nous offre un magnifique voyage en compagnie de ces troubadours homeless.
Dix compositions originales et une reprise « Death don’t have no mercy », une déclinaison de joyaux interprétés avec une énergie et un enthousiasme impressionnant par des musiciens convaincants tant par leurs qualités d’instrumentistes, leurs vocaux que leur osmose, un album réalisé à la spartiate en dix jours, dans une chaumière des Lowland au milieu de la lande écossaise.
Une musique au son nature, un peu crade, enregistrée en direct live, un régal de mélodies dominées par l’accordéon de Michael Ward Bergman et de l’harmonica nappé des sons du banjo et de guitare de Cory Seznec, le tout rythmé de manière dépouillée mais total efficace par les percus de Paul Clifford, quant au chant ils se partagent le boulot avec un bonheur égal. Trois virtuoses sachant créer une ambiance spécifique, riche, apaisante tout en étant dynamique et envoûtante.
Une superbe réalisation et un magnifique voyage au milieu d’une américana music enrichie de sonorités du monde.
-review in issue 61 of Blues and Co Magazine, Sept-Oct-Nov 2012.

Amazingly, on this, their fifth album (Groanbox) have fashioned an array of material that’s as diverting as ever, the opening Po’Boy rockin’ like something Clifton Chenier might have pushed our way on a particularly lively Zydeco night. Then comes the first switch when Bunco Artist proves to be the kind of song that could have arisen in an early Hollywood plantation scene. And so it goes, as the trio wend their erratic but imaginative way… -MOJO Magazine, January 2012. Read the album review here.

Groanbox are pluralists in the truest sense, stirring their deep southern blues with liberal earfuls of Cajun music, European gypsy reels, and woolly mountain folk. That it trips along so convincingly is testament to both their skilful chops and a raw production that makes everything sound vividly alive… -UNCUT Magazine, January 2012. Read the album review here.

Unique is a word that is frequently used inappropriately, but in the case of Groanbox no other description will do. The trio’s music may have its roots in rural Americana but by the time it comes out of the speakers it’s been around the world a couple of times, pausing in likely and unlikely places, picking up a rhythm here and an inflexion there and melding everything into true world music…(the) Songs are by and large of the darker variety, which is just the way it should be, and if you feel the urge to howl at the moon with delight on listening to this album, why that’s just the way it should be too. -Jeremy Searle, AmericanaUK, November 30, 2011. Read the album review here.

Groanbox add a soupçon of old-school vaudeville to the serious business of roots music…(they) apparently recorded this album in the space of a week, although the sonic bric-a-brac is far richer than most supergroups would come up with if they were given two years and 200 tons of equipment…Marvelous. -Clive Davis, The Sunday Times November 27, 2011. Read the album review here.

An entertaining, freewheeling album that provides a reminder of their adventurous approach to global styles… -Robin Denselow, The Guardian October 27, 2011. Read the album review here.

2010

With touches of Africa, the Balkans and Siberia bleeding into their wayward Americana, and full-blooded singing that wouldn’t have disgraced Levon Helm in his pomp, these global good ol’ boys could be onto a winning formula. -Mark Hudson, The Telegraph June 13, 2010. Read the four star review here.

If they ever transfer Twin Peaks II to New Orleans this could be the soundtrack…There is an undeniably New Orleans-Cajun feel throughout but I could just as easily tell you that Livingston Sessions sounds like Seasick
Steve jamming with Gogol Bordello or Dr. John jamming with the Handsome Family…
-Maverick, July 2010. Read the three star review here.

Opening with the early Ry Cooder styled stomp and pick dance of Muddy Shoals, these 16 tracks cover a wealth of cultures, from the Cajun reggae of Beat Bush Hunter and Oyster Lease’s African banjo-backed accordion
invention, to Sugar On My Pencil’s lascivious blues and Peasant Under Grass’s suggestion of Hoagy Carmichael and Lowell George collaborating in the afterlife. Great stuff.
-Rob Adams, The Herald, June 7, 2010. Read the album review here.

Groanbox flout conventions, alternating between an accordion sound that conjures up Parisian cafes one moment and Clifton Chenier at his bluesiest the next, utilising a pre civil war banjo or using a tree-log as a drum, flitting between reggae and atonal sounds, American folk music and Tuvan throat singing, and sometimes with very conscious, stylised vocals or at other times unadorned backwoods singing. Totally intriguing and with lots of energy. -Norman Darwen, Blues Art Journal. Read the review here.

The voices and the phrasings are uncommon and Groanbox seem to have
picked up influences from all over…I can’t think of a minute of this
collection of songs that I wasn’t riveted, either crying with
the emotion of it all or stretching my brain trying to understand what was
being done next. They have taken the opportunity of a ‘proper’ studio to
create a sound that is slightly more professional and they have kept their
eclectic and anarchic nature while doing so – I’m impressed by
the talent and lost in admiration at their music.
-Andy Snipper,
Music-News.com, May 10, 2010. Read the four-star review here.

…Two Americans and a Canadian, offering an extraordinarily fresh mix of
music, instruments, styles and content…The songs were stunning –
mainly observations on life rather than romance, and plenty of classic US
railroad references…There was also clear evidence of musical influence from
other continents. The seats were all taken, with a number of people
standing/sitting on the staircase. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed it. Well
done the Milton Rooms – more of this please.
-John Collins,
Gazette and Herald, May 12, 2010. Read the live review here.

The North American world roots outfit formerly known as the Groanbox Boys
may have expanded to a trio and shortened their name, but their approach is as
adventurous as ever…This is Americana with a twist, from the clash of
bluegrass banjo with moody, experimental accordion on Doing the Laundry, to the
throat singing and folk systems music of Tuvan Voodoo, to the atmospheric,
fife-backed blues of I Was Born or the stomping Oyster Lease. Groanbox are true
originals.
-Robin Denselow, The Guardian, April 29, 2010. Read the
4-star review here.

…Recorded live, this is certainly a treat for roots ears. Employing an
eclectic set of instruments that include gourd banjo, calabash, keys, tin cans
and a rudimentary drum hewn from a Yew log, they explore a wide ranging
tapestry of world music, channeling them into a meld of dusty folk blues stomp
and raw spirituals.
-Mike Davies, NetRhythms.co.uk, April 2010. Read
the review here

Groanbox…manage to concoct a tellingly original branch of Americana
that they can justifiably call their own. And the trademark Groanbox sense of
gleeful-yet-controlled abandon that often still threatens to topple over the
edge – well that’s all present and wilfully correct, in happy
abundance, with the eccentricity-fascination quotient easily maintained in
tandem with Groanbox’s excellent musicianship over this new
album’s glorious hour-long span. Tremendous stuff!
-David Kidman,
FolkandRoots.co.uk, April/May 2010. Read the review here.

2009

A pair of LSE/Johns Hopkins and Berklee graduates plus an academically
trained percussionist cast as a trio of shamanistic gypsies singing the
ethno-musicological blues might seem a stretch. But the proof is in the grooves
and here they’re dub-deep thanks to Michael Ward-Bergeman’s accordion, tweaked
to Augustus Pablo/King Tubby-strength melodica melancholy and seismic boom.
Within this frame, the three scrape, strum, rattle and hum their sundry
calabashes, zob sticks and the rest of the global busker’s arsenal. Road
mileage has roughened their first two splendid sets,
Smokestack Trilogy,
and
Fences Come Down, and if they keep taking the creeping yew, chicken
feet and deer bone, their songs should reach the spell-binding intensity of
theatrical primitivism to which they so entertainingly aspire. -Mat Snow,
Mojo, December 2009, on Gran Bwa. Read it here.

Groanbox are virtuoso instrumentalists and while joyous in performance,
make no mistake, they’re passionately serious about the music they make…

-from an interview with Dave Peabody, fRoots, Nov/Dec 2009.

Gran Bwa, their third album, is a stomping, grungy delight. The
trio’s brand of Americana has less to do with the traditional backwoods
fare than with the mongrelisation of several musical strands into something
that can only be described as shamanic. You get the feeling that a large amount
of this material was born out of extended sessions round a fire in the dead of
night. Equal parts blues, zydeco and brutish hoedown, songs with titles like
‘Poison At The Tolbooth’, ‘Beneath A Dark Veil Of
Needles’ or ‘Deer Bone In The Mansion’ use repeated
surreal phrases and snippets that are grunted, whispered and yelped to summon
sylvan ghosts. Clifford’s thumping accompaniment on bones, twigs and
even the enigmatic ‘freedom boot’ raises the titular spirit of
the woods while Ward-Bergeman’s groanbox wheezes and Seznec’s
strings supply a fluid, delicate continuum. It’s spooky but also often
hilarious. If there are immediate comparisons to be made it’s with the
transposed delta blues of Captain Beefheart or junkyard grind of Tom Waits.
It’s dirty, unwashed and tremendous fun.
-Chris Jones,
Songlines, October 2009, on Gran Bwa. Selected as a Top of the
World
album.

The palette of unexpected sounds they deploy in the service of their
rootsy Americana grows wider and more fascinating every day…This is a work
filled with strangeness and charm and confirms Groanbox as one of the most
interesting bands around…
-Jeremy Searle, R2 Rock’n'Reel, Sept-Oct
2009 on Gran Bwa. Read the four star album
review
.

Their music is a melting pot of styles from Nashville to New Orleans,
Mali to Romania, anchored by the “Freedom Boot” – a shamanistic six-foot
stomping stick carrying bells, nails, rings and over 400 beer bottle tops
picked up on their travels. The group visited the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in
London at the end of their recent UK tour last month to perform four songs,
including material from their new album, Gran Bwa.

Watching the session, Mary Ann describes percussionist Paul Clifford as some
voodoo hybrid of a magpie in his nest and Doc Brown from “Back To The
Future”
. Presenter: Mary Ann Kennedy, Producer: Felix Carey, BBC World
on 3
, August 2009.

Their third album moves the sound of last year’s much praised Fences
Come Downtowards Tom Waits’s clanking junkyard and comes with shamanic
overtones – the title refers to a voodoo spirit…
-Neil Spencer, The
Observer
(The Guardian), August 2009, on Gran Bwa. Read
the album review
.

Eccentric, weird, brilliant, and certainly their best batch yet.
-David Kidman, Netrhythms.co.uk, June 2009, on Groanbox’s latest album
Gran Bwa. Read the
album review
.

An eclectic offering that first takes on the grumpy, rustic temperament
of Tom Wait’s Swordfishtrombones, only to veer into shamanic gypsy trance…An
amazingly successful meld of folk styles and traditions, with a heavy
sprinkling of inventiveness..
-Helen Keen, Maverick, May
2009. Read the full feature here: Page 1 and
Page 2.

…it was percussionist Paul Clifford who held ones attention. With a
calabash (gourd shell), an old piece of a yew tree and various implements he
unleashed a torrent of sounds. Hammering, stroking, hitting, whistling and
eventually grabbing their Freedom boot (a six foot pole garnished with 420
bottle caps, a boot and fetish symbols) he was at times shamanistic.
-Paul
Kerr, Americana UK, April 2009. Read the full feature here.

Bruce MacGregor has been waxing lyrical about the Groanbox Boys for the
past year. I was expecting well-played bluegrass, maybe a bit hokey, but
definitely authentic and well-played. I was thus completely unprepared for the
reality, which is almost impossible to describe. The set swooped and soared
from Nick Cave to Dr John the Night Tripper via Paul Simon’s Graceland,
veering occasionally into Trent Reznor territory and suddenly heading back to
Maryland as though butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth. File under E for
Extraordinarily Excellent.
-Jennie Macfie, Hi-Arts. Read
the full review here.

A return to eclecticism that hasn’t been in style since the heyday of
psychedelia…The mix may be dazzling, but Ward-Bergeman and Seznec’s antique
tools and precocious dexterity give the whole a coherence that grounds it. This
is an album that celebrates the joys of life without boundaries, and wonderful
stuff it is too.
-Chris Jones, Songlines, March 2009. Read the album review.

…Totally unique – take Darling Lou, a song that somehow manages
to sound like a prohibition-era American ballad driven by French café accordion
music overseen by the ghost of Django Reinhardt.
-Dave Haslam, Rock n
Reel
Jan-Feb 2009. Read the album review.

2008

Found instruments, playing found music, music that is genuinely unique
although firmly grounded in traditional folk and blues. Being inspired is one
thing, but making inspiring music is another, and the two don’t always go
together. With the Groanbox Boys though there’s never a moment when their music
isn’t inspired. They draw the listener into their world, a world where music is
more primal, more connected to the earth and whose vibrations reach right down
inside them and touch their very core. Their latest album,
Fences Come
Down, couldn’t be more aptly named, as the Boys recognise no boundaries, no
limit to what they play, the sounds they make, or what separates them from
their audience. Truly one of those nights.
-Jeremy Searle, Maverick.
Read the full live review.

Full of hillbilly, hobo blues, and banjo frenzy…also resurrected are
period instruments, such as the freedom boot and shackles, employed as
advocates to the 1930s and 1940s wandering freedom songs. Lively, entertaining,
intriguing, at times melancholy, and at other times vibrant, there is an
enjoyable ride to be had here on this train…”
-Russell Welton,
Acoustic Magazine. Read the album
review
.

Utterly individual…one of the roots albums of the year. -Andy
Snipper, Blues Matters. Read the album
review
.

The infectious energy the band generate proves irresistible…There’s a
simplicity to bashing away at gourd skins and tree stumps, although such
accessibility disguises the sophistication of the band’s music.
-Alfred
Hickling, The Guardian. Read
the feature here.

Read a live review from Blues in Britain.

Read an article and see a video from a Yorkshire school workshop href=" http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/videoandpictures/videonews/55404/" target="_blank">here.

Itinerant road songs for the new austerity. -Tim Cumming, The
Independent
. Read the four star review.

Describing them simply as American roots musicians really wouldn’t cover
it. They play with such a variety of influences, often within a single piece,
that no genre would be able to contain them…the emotion was on display for
all to hear and feel.
-Martin Lennon, The Scotsman. Read the full article here.

Now, I have just come across the next duo, and there is so much to say
that I am gonna leave it to another program. They have a completely new,
completely different take on the music. They are simply amazing!
– Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2 (27th August 2008).

An extraordinary mix of European and American folk styles – like Uncle
Dave Macon dancing on the tables in a Parisian cafe with Django Reinhardt and
Clifton Chenier riffing in the background.
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian. Read the four star review of Fences Come Down.

A rich sound with Seznec pulling vintage, deeply characterful tones from
guitar and a fretless-sounding gourd-banjo, and Ward-Bergeman adding longing
counterpoint as Clifford applies a hammer to a yew log or plays with brushes (
as in paint, rather than the standard drummer’s issue)…An arresting blend of
sophistication, foot-stompin’ bonhomie and furious harmonica storms…
-Rob
Adams, The Herald. target="_blank">Read it here.

Multi-cultural eclecticism, dynamic performances and a joyous,
foot-tapping folk heart… Rich but relaxed, vibrant but subtle,
Fences
Come Down is highly recommended to those who love colourful and characterful
roots music.
-HC, Maverick Magazine

Every now and then, a musical experience comes your way that makes you
sit up and listen and do a sort of aural double-take, like the sort of thing
you used to see in those old cartoons; a real ‘huh!!” experience. This CD is
one of those. Not blues, not folk, not even really any specific kind of
American roots music, more like all of the above and then some.
-Ian M,
review of Fences Come Down for Blues in the South

On the Freedom Boot: It’s a percussion instrument to us but between all
the stuff that people have given us to put in the bag and all the theoretical
and historical stuff that’s been attached to it, it’s become pretty heavy both
physically and spiritually.
-From Michael’s interview with Rob Adams, The Herald

We try to make a point of creating a recording that’s indicative of the
way we sound live – capturing that energy.
-from the Metro‘s 5
questions with… target="_blank">Read it here

…The music was considerably more interesting than duelling banjos
however, with Michael Ward-Bergeman’s accordion combining well with Cory
Seznec’s varied stringed instruments to touch on gipsy music and all points
south, including Cajun.
-Paul Rhodes, The Press. Read it here.

Folk, Blues, Hillbilly, Old Time and Country, Zydeco, with a zest of
Gypsy music: it’s smooth’n'rough, it’s stompin’, it’s unexpected, and is said
to have ‘the power to energize everyone who comes close’
-Jill Turner for
Gondwana
Sound

…the Boys’ sheer exuberance – not to mention the fascinating and
enthralling sounds they conjure from the simplest of means – wins me over
completely.
– David Kidman, Netrhythms.co.uk, review of Fences
Come Down

There are acoustic-guitar- picking folk groups, there are
accordion-pounding Gypsy troupes, there are harmonica-blowing blues combos and
gourd-banjo-frailing world-music troubadours; there are even, probably,
musicians who carry six-foot-high percussion sticks around with them. But there
is surely no musical partnership that brings all of the above together as
bracingly as the Groanbox Boys.
-Ben Chu, The Independent, tour
preview. Read it here

2007 and prior

The music is absolutely enthralling and goes deep into the roots of
popular music…
-The Archer, East Finchley, London

What makes the Groanbox Boys unique and might explain their success is
their distinct instrumentation…
-Amandine Surier, Martha’s Vineyard
Times

What a revelation The Groanbox Boys proved to be last Tuesday! In
my humble opinion they were one of the best acts we’ve had at the club in a
long time…..and boy that’s saying something. Several people turned their
noses up when I said this was an accordion led duo…..but it simply
worked…..wonderful vocal harmonies, unusual arrangements but beautifully
played and a real old mix of stuff…..from almost Parisian Jazz to deep
Mississippi Blues detouring to The Appalachians on the way.
-John Adams,
The Bottleneck Blues Club.

Dig underneath the fingernail of modern popular music and you get to the
quick. There – in the raw, living, tissue – is where you’ll find the Groanbox
Boys. It’s not a show. It’s life.
– Ben Chu, The Independent

An excellent release that brings us the world of the train, the hobo and
the American past. This is old time foot stomping American blues played on
accordion, acoustic guitar, banjo, piano and harmonica. My pick is “Hobo
Heaven” a track full of feeling. Very good. -
Graham Radley, Basic
Soul
and World Unlimited

The Groanbox Boys’ recent release, Smokestack Trilogy, is a wonderful
trip through American music, taking music from sixty and seventy years ago and
putting a modern sheen to it. Throughout, the interplay between Ward-Bergman’s
accordion and Seznec’s banjo is simply superb. Smokestack Trilogy has something
special to offer fans of American Roots music. The Groanbox Boys touch on a
variety of styles with this release and the results are outstanding.

-Graham Clarke, Blues Bytes Magazine

If somebody would have told me that I’d be having a ball listening to an
accordion-banjo duo I wouldn’t have believed it! You guys are fabulous,
creating a totally new and fresh sound. Interesting lyrics and strong vocals
are also your advantages. “Smokestack Trilogy” is one hell of a roots music
disc! It will be my pleasure to feature your music in my shows. I’m sure my
listeners will enjoy it as much as I do!
-Przemek Draheim, Radio
Sfera
, blues.pl/draheim

Smokestack Trilogy is a fine musical journey! My wife and I were putting
up a Christmas tree when I slipped it into the player. For the first couple of
cuts we kept working away, exchanging glances every few seconds and then
stopped working, sat down and just listened as hard as we could. My wife wants
me to tell you that she was enthralled with your music. I think that pretty
well sums up my first impression too. The way you guys put the arrangements
together and the unusual mix of tonalities was so original and fresh. I kept
saying to myself as I listened, “where in the world is this going? it’s not
going to work”. But it always did work. The surprises just kept coming. I can
tell you for sure that the CD will get a lot of play around here. I’ve got a
collection of six or seven albums with guys playing banjos I’ve made. Yours
means the most to me as it demonstrates how new energy and creativity can
always be added to the mix of traditionally based music. Congratulations!

-Bob Thornburg, renowned banjo maker, gourdbanjo.com

Technically gifted players and masters of their material, the Groanbox
Boys sing and play with an enviable spirit and a love of their traditions
whether in folk songs, mountain songs, blues or rags.
-Renato Belardinelli,
accordions.com. href="http://www.accordions.com/index/art/cd_06_12_01.shtml" target="_blank">Read the full review of Smokestack Trilogy on accordions.com

Pure entertainment…One could close one’s eyes and be in the Mississippi
Delta on an old fashioned paddle steamer…the Freedom Boot is an amazing piece
of percussion…The tracks are well ordered, fluctuating between slow and
melodic and fiery and furiously fast…They are crazy guys and this comes
across on the CD. It is produced so well it almost seems as if they are in the
room with you.
-Helen Jones, from a 10 out of 10 review of Smokestack
Trilogy that appeared in Blues in Britain