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.

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.

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

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.

…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.

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.

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.

…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.