Most albums are merely meant to be enjoyed. Others are shared as a showcase for an artist’s instrumental abilities. However the best offerings of all manage to combine each intent in ways that are easily able to accommodate both, serving as evidence of musical ambition while also allowing for an absolutely entertaining experience at the same time.
Late Bloom, an initial outing by the Memphis-based bluegrass band, Graber Gryass, simultaneously shares both those attributes and makes for an impressive album in the process. Michael Graber, a part-time player with other outfits, has always been serious about making music, having grown up in a city where the music is constantly in the ether. Unfortunately, there were unforeseen circumstances that forced him to delay that quest — first, the need to care for his family when his two children were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, and then, more recently, the onslaught of the pandemic.
Happily then, Late Bloom finally finds his desires coming to fruition, courtesy of a set of songs that not only reflect his instrumental acumen — and that of the more than a dozen musicians that accompany him — but also an innate ability to pen songs that share their observations from an Everyman perspective. The music is folksy without being condescending, easily engaging but never superfluous, and with more than a hint of humor and pathos. The latter is evident in a pair of songs that arrive early on in the album, Fool Living Wrong and More To Lose, each a tale about failed relationships that find the narrator accepting responsibility for all that went wrong. Likewise, the ominous When the Water’s This Low comes across as a cautionary tale, a sobering narrative about a near-fatal encounter with a cottonmouth snake on what first appeared to be an otherwise ordinary day of relaxing on the water.
While it may seem — at least initially — that Late Bloom is engulfed with darker designs, that’s hardly the case. Drifting Away and Wind That Shakes the Cotton come across as sprawling and celebratory examples of fully fueled grassicana, riveting and robust. Marijuana, an ode to the once-forbidden herb, recalls something similar to an old hippie’s hootenanny while documenting the weed’s rise in respectability. Likewise, Drinking 40s, is, as its name implies, a tipsy toast to the joys of inebriation.
Then again, what better way to disengage than to simply overindulge? A late bloom is far better than any early doom.