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"Gritty, down home country the way it should be" â Time Out New York

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"Jack, with titles like these we should really get you into rehab."  Dale
Watson
With a new CD titled Drinking Songs for Lovers, one might be forgiven for
believing that Jack Grace should ease up a little. Songs like “Morning
Margaritas,” “Drinkin’ and Gamblin’,” and “You Drank Yourself into a
Corner” are certainly convincing evidence that the singer, songwriter and guitarist who has made a career
out of following no one’s rules but his own is probably going to keep doing his thing until his liver lays down
the law.
Now on his fifth recording, Jack has also contributed music to the cult films Super Troopers and Beerfest.
He’s earned praise from press and peers, and even a musical legend or two. Opening for Jerry Lee Lewis
afforded him a quotable anecdote after Lewis, listening to the band’s set backstage at BB Kings in NYC,
quipped, “He sounds like that Cash kid, only good.” After Lewis’ set, Jack shook his hand and told him it had
been an honor to share the stage with him. Lewis leaned in and said, "I really enjoyed your set." When he
left the stage after opening for Merle Haggard, Jack asked him to autograph his guitar. The singer obliged
with a smile and lifted the guitar to examine it. "Hmmm,” he said. “Feels like there's a few more songs in this
one.”
Not bad for a guy that came to the music thing a bit late. An aspiring actor, Jack didn’t even pick up a guitar
until he was 18 and has been evolving on the instrument ever since. His theatrical background clearly made
him extremely comfortable on the stage, to which his spirited live performances are a testament.
His music has been influenced by great songwriters and performers of the past 50 years. Miles Davis, Neil
Young, Led Zeppelin, Tom Waits, Merle Haggard and Frank Sinatra inform his work. Some of his fondest
childhood memories are of dozing in the back seat listening to Ol’ Blue Eyes on his father’s car stereo. Then
came the Fab Four. His teenage obsession with the Beatles got so intense that his best friend’s mom
became worried about their friendship, saying, “A relationship shouldn’t be based on a rock band.” He still
attends Beatlefest every year, buying more 45s and action figures for his growing collection.
It’s artists like Young, in particular, who have refused to be boxed in by any label, format or any other
restrictions, that are the ones who’ve inspired Jack to move in any direction he’s wanted. He formed his first
band in 1993 in Boulder, CO. Steak was an experimental, Zappa-flavored 4-piece that had an avid following
in the West until the group officially disbanded in ’99. Frustrated by the restraints of even an experimental
outfit, Jack decided to go solo, working with a revolving group of musicians even to this day. Functioning
more like a jazz bandleader, he has a main cast of characters but keeps two to three drummers on call for
recordings and gigs.
Four previous releases have been building both a following and the steady hum of praise. His debut,
Introducing the Songs of Jack Grace, was an acoustic affair, which many mistook as country. “Fine, call it
country if you want,” he said at the time. “What you label it doesn’t mean all that much to me.” What
mattered were the rules that could be broken. For his last recording he opted to do a country concept album
called The Martini Cowboy, throwing in a bossa nova number with lap steel front and center.
It worked.
Alan Young of the New York Press raved, “But what sets his songs apart from rest of the country or altcountry scene is his laugh-out-loud, absurdist wit. Not only is this a great party album and a great driving
album but it’s also very smart and very funny.” Kevin Canfield, writing for the New York Times, exclaimed,
"Make no mistake: Jack Grace is an old-fashioned country musician." Except that he isn’t.
His band rocks too hard to be country. It always has. And the band members come from all walks of life:
jazz, rock, country and, well, other. Bassist, vocalist and wife Daria (Melomane, Pre-war Ponies) keeps the
rhythm going with the rotating drummers, Russ Meissner, Jason "J-Bird" Bowman and Bruce Martin (Tom
Tom Club) Mike Neer (lap steel) and Bill Malchow (keyboards) round out the rest of the core group, but
special guests like Earl Poole Ball (Johnny Cash Band) and John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful) make their
presence felt.
Whenever someone tries to classify what Jack is doing, he pulls a jailbreak from the genre, and that is what
makes his music modern rock. Even when he was promoting The Martini Cowboy, people wondered, is he
more martini or cowboy? Now we have our answer.
Unfortunately, Drinking Songs for Lovers is largely autobiographical. Jack didn’t intend for it to happen this
way. As he readied himself for the studio he realized, not quite to his surprise, that nearly all of his new
tunes revolved around a common theme: alcohol. There is also the jaunty “It Was a Really Bad Year” to help
through the hard times and the elegiac “I Still Can’t Believe That You’re Gone” to get a little misty over.
There’s no time for rehab right now. A consummate live performer, lyricist, singer and guitarist, Jack is at the
helm of a powerhouse band that plays kick the can with any style that it stumbles across. Intelligence,
humor and unpredictable cross-pollinations of musical categories await. But don’t take our word for it. "If you
don't laugh and cry at the same time as Grace and his gracefully loose band navigate their way through such
gems as ‘If You're Gonna Raise a Drunk’ and ‘Morning Margaritas,’ you better check your pulse. You might
be disgracefully dead." – James Reaney, London Free Press (London, ON)
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