Oakland-based R&B/funk/soul outfit Idiot Grins is comprised of Michael Conner (organ, piano, clavinet, harmonica, synths), Evan Eustis (bass, background vocals, mandolins, lead vocals), John Hansen (lead vocals, background vocals, electric piano, accordion), Michael Melgoza (drums, background vocals), and Randy Strauss (guitar, lap steel).
In 2012, Idiot Grins produced their debut Quarry, a recording that East Bay Express had inexplicably refer to as “zydeco-rockish” and “charming but torpid.” The rockers’ sophomore release, Big Man was made over the course of ’14-’15 with the help of Johnnie Bamont and Mic Gillette from Tower of Power and Huey Lewis and the News on horns and Joe Goldmark on pedal steel.
On their most recent release, the powerhouse soul super-group collaborates with the legendary Bryd Sisters (Lena Byrd-Miles, Lisa Byrd, and Lauren Byrd) to unleash, State Of Health, an album that is a hybrid of soul and funk with an intermingling of blues and a dash of Motown-inspired R&B to give you a wide-ranging record that also blends country-bent blues with Americana.
The album opens up with “Get Busy Dying” that right away starts out with some rummaging bluesy guitars on this tantalizing track that really titillates the senses with its country twang vibe and big R&B thrust and pull. The soulful connotations is filled with a warm sound, with a trumpet that adds an overall energized layer to the happening appeal. About living life to the fullest and with the motto to always rise to the occasion, rocking synths overflow the track with a big groovy sound.
On “Frock,” the Byrd Sisters launch the track with their melodious combined vocal harmonies. With a great funk twist to the song, Eustis also sings with fervent fervor. The energized flavor exudes itself in the resounding keys that play off on the track along with the lively brass section. About a chance encounter that alters both parties’ lives, the soul vibe vies for your attention in this go-getting groovy song.
“Philly Belly Cheesy” is a slow-burning ballad that really comes alive with a great Motown feel. Relaying an elegant and graceful approach to its undertaking, the track is about that special someone who just lights up their world. The beatific sound and touching lyrics are supported by smooth keys, soaring synths, and energized trumpets that combine for a great flowy feel.
“Build It” starts off with the horns giving off a jazzy flair to the track. The great rambunctious sound riffs across a raucous and soulful variety. You can really feel the thrust and pull giving towards the ebb and flow of the song. The great bluesy vibe is paved by a happening beat and energized feel. The rollicking sound incorporates a bluesy rhythmic bassline, a dramatic brass section, lively horns, energized synths, long-striding guitars, and happening keys.
On “Unkind,” the horns sounds off toward the beginning of the track and traces the rest of the song. The soothing ballad gives off a relaxing feel and a placating sound. Filled with resonating grooves that blends R&B and soul with a touch of Motown, warbling synths and sounds of the harmonica are interwoven with the beatific vocal harmonies from Eustis and the Bryd Sisters within the track.
“That’s Some Funky Business” elicits a great groovy vibe with the sure blues being played that is really attention-grabbing. The horns add a funky layer to the track with a stylish guitar solo sounding off mid-song.
“Televised” harkens to a more retro sound, inspired by a Motown feel. The great bluesy sound resonates with melodious vocal harmonies being fully supported by spirited horns unleashed on the track.
“Taking Back” pervades with a grinding R&B vibe filled to the tee with a funky twist. The horns add an enthused layer to the upbeat track. This is a feet shuffling and head bobbing variety – a fully charged, soulful rendition.
The up keyed vibe enjoyed in the previous tracks continue on, on the invigorating and dreamy energized sounds on keys, guitar, and horns on “Dream,” on the slower saunter, soothing vibe on “Mama’s Tears,” on the retro and country-bent track, “Breathe,” and finally on the groovy and fiery Motown-inspired closer, “Big Starry Night.”
Idiot Grins once again show their musical prowess on their latest album, State Of Health. A multi-faceted album, the record proves the groovy blues band is not to be pigeon-holed into any particular genre.
A glimpse into the interworking minds of the Bay Area collective, State of Health is a collaborative effort, with the Bryd Sisters launching each track with their combined vocal harmonies alongside the Idiot Grins unique renderings.
This spirited release is springy with a daring and arresting vibe that will leave you in motion and commotion.
Sustaining a dreamy and larger than life vision without being production-heavy and over-the-top, this warm and heart-felt production easily cinches them as towering prospects in the blues community.
Prevalent with a soulful timelessness, State Of Health is a must-listen.