Adam Greuel is a special person. The conditions that existed in the universe to create him, I’ll never understand, as much as I’d love to regularly recreate them. He seems to have these three characteristics in abundance: courage, generosity, and curiosity. To be a successful musician these are the three things you need to have. Adam has the courage to step on stage and lay it on the line – no holding back.
And any musician will tell you that generosity is a thing that feels like encouragement to whoever you might be sharing the stage with. The generous player always gets invited back.
Curiosity is what put him in the room or at the festival to hear all sorts of good, live music at an early age. But on his latest album titled Low Income Porridge (Casimir Gold Records) his curiosity has manifested. Beyond the widespread success of his band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Adam is now producing records for other artists and for himself. Because, well – courage…generosity…curiosity. And it’s at work on this collection of original tunes.
Adam and I share many musical influences despite our age difference. I love hearing those influences come through on this record: Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Dylan, Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia (and I swear to God, a little Garth Brooks). You’ll hear him reference some of those influences on the song “One More.” For most of those aforementioned songwriters, their material could extract you from the dogged crises of their times and would frame the world as a painting – done with their palette of mythologies and folk tales, and blending the “then” with the “now.” But Adam never lived through the crisis and cultural revolution of those days. Not by a long shot (born in the 90’s).
The songs on Low Income Porridge are symbolic of his time and of his generation. This music is crucially Millennial. Generally, this is Greuel’s style. His messages may be couched in time-worn folk and country forms but he’s talking, in some ways, to the youth. He’s giving them instruction on this record. Grammatically speaking, four of the songs are commands: “Let that Mandolin Play,” “Keep that Fire Burning,” “Gather Your Kin Close,” and “Rise Again.” These are the messages that people need to hear.
Adam sees through the smoke of our industrialized tech culture. When Taj Mahal wrote songs about fishing, he was selling a simpler life. When Horseshoes sings about fishing (or Greuel, as well, on this record) they are sounding an alarm that these old ways are suffocating. And those old ways may be the last chance we have to survive it all. The recent and overwhelming popularity of string bands, in general, speaks to a desire for something redemptive like old time religion, rather than a desire for something simply quaint or jovial.
Greuel speaks to Millennial anxiety with a line from the song “Money:” “There’s not enough. I’ve got too much. Money, I pray it don’t take me.” And he soothes like a father on the John Hartford-inspired “Ain’t It Fine,” when he sings “I’m telling you friends, It’ll all be fine.” Adam can do this with a sincere necessary to avoid something cliché. There’s far too much heart in his message to be misconstrued. It doesn’t feel cheap. It feels therapeutic.
Adam Greuel is avuncular (yes, Google it). He’s like a big maple tree. He provides you shade, and sweetness, and something to lean on. He’ll give you his shoulder to cry on as long as you provide him yours. His songs lay out the trouble and then deliver the hope. And his images are always well represented and fitting to his sound. Greuel’s lyrics and musical style are well paired, and his voice is deep, mellow, and has this joyful Northern twang which is hard to explain.
But, being from Minnesota I get it. It’s a blend of his native Wisconsin, and something like Arkansas hillbilly. It fits the music on this record to a “T.” Where Horseshoes & Hand Grenades’ music is like a barn-swallow – diving and racing – the music on Low Income Porridge is a Great Horned owl: calm and soulful, with sharp eyes. There is a need on this record for simplicity; to keep the messages clear. Space is created and tastefully filled with some gorgeous string parts, steel guitars, and piano.
Songs like the lead-off track “Rise Again” move like a big river with the shimmer of a sinking sun. Of the 15 tracks on this album, there are many whose tempos allow for the lyrics to come forward. The song “Four Channels and A Willow Tree” gets stripped thoroughly, with just Greuel on piano and some George Martin-esque string arrangements at the end. It’s on these songs where he is most able to deliver the hope which he seems duty-bound to do.
The other half of this record showcases a Neil Young-ish stripped down rock combo. This format has a ton of strength, and it’s within this group of tunes that one will find some instant classics. Songs like “Dear Rosemarie,” “Gather Your Kin Close,” and “For Old Red” capture that Texas troubadour vibe as accurately as anyone else around. Whether it’s a ballad or honky tonk, so many of these songs are so well crafted and sonically pleasing that I can’t help but hand out one final compliment regarding Adam’s producing chops.
Ironically, it takes a lot of work to make an album that sounds stripped down. But the moments of space are as often allowed to just ring out as they are adorned with idiomatic beauty. It’s a beautiful record.
But then again, I’m a sucker for the pedal steel.