Given its unpretentious posture and makeshift inception, Grain Thief’s new album, Gasoline, might have reason to offer the impression that it’s as volatile as its title implies. Written on the run — in the midst of late night parties, airplane flights, highway happenstance, and doing the due diligence is needed to maintain their day jobs – the band gathered their resources in the dead of winter to record what turned out to be their most coherent creation yet.
Opting to mesh inspiration with acoustic acumen, the band members — Patrick Mulroy (guitar, vocals), Zach Meyer (mandolin, vocals), Michael Harmon (bass, vocals), Tom Farrell (resonator guitar), and Alex Barstow (fiddle) — decidedly establish that they have no need for extraneous embellishment when it comes to maintaining their mettle. Indeed, this is both a deft and determined set of songs, a confluence of skill and savvy that makes it their most vital and varied effort yet.
That said., its title aside, Gasoline never sounds incendiary. These are, above all, simply songs of celebration, and it’s little wonder that the jubilation is so contagious. Opening track Diesel Baby sets the tone with its casual sway of fiddle, the pluck of mandolin, and upbeat harmonies that appear all aglow. The title tune alternates between a slow serenade and its rallying refrain. I Was Wrong allows for a determined ballad, one that’s seemingly self-confessional but still able to resonate as well.
The rest of the set follows suit, from the striking string band instrumental, Off the Rails, and the upbeat and expressive Nightmare, to the hopeful optimism that gives due diligence to drink, Tequila Bottle, and the effortless enthusiasm that results from the meal found the morning after, the wordless but resilient Bourgeois Breakfast. The songs that follow in the final stretch, be it the delicate ballads Sunlight and Zoe, the surging Pedal Down, or the closing coda that comes in the form of the zydeco-inflected/south of the border rave up, Manghe Mi Camisa, help ensure the emphatic impression that can’t help but linger with the listener overall.
Ultimately then, Gasoline is the album that stands as the band’s most assured effort to date, and certainly its most emphatic as well. At this point there’s no doubt that Grain Thief has earned whatever rewards may come their way.