Mr. Griff, the artist, had carved out his niche in the music industry for over 20 years as a session drummer. Inspired by the ups and downs over the last year and half, he has come out from behind the kit to front a brand new project at the keys. Right off the bat at first listen, you hear that multi year experience shine right through in the way of funky, tight pocketed rhythms.
The name of the band itself, also goes by the name Mr. Griff. However, I don’t know if I could call it a “band” more so than an experience. Over 14 different musicians contributed parts to the recordings of the album that is being reviewed today, entitled “Hey Friend.” The compositions and arrangements are enhanced so well by each individual’s instrumentation, that it creates a concise and consistently funky vibe from start to finish of the album. And what would one expect, honestly, with a 20 year session player at the helm? Indeed it is apparent that Mr. Griff has surrounded himself with other impressive players of the same caliber.
Here are the players that make up the core of the band:
- Mr. Griff – Keys, Vocals
- Booga – Guitar
- Ismael Sanchez – Bass
- Joe Taylor – Drums
- Bobby Radford – Percussion, BVs
- Phil Cambridge – Trombone
Don’t just take it from me, Mr. Griff’s live show has managed to impress enough to already land them a couple of sold out gigs in support of the currently touring band Smoove and Turrell last summer in their hometown of Cambridge, in the UK.
Deep dive into the album:
The album opens up with an infectious, melodic tune called “Wait Up.” This song stood out the most for me and was a great choice to open the album up with in my opinion. You can immediately hear a fusion of influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to Jamiraquai, as well as what I feel like is a signature sound to the band: a place where Funkadelic meets roadhouse blues. Indeed an energy similar to the vibes old-school Stevie used to invoke when I’d hear it. The overall theme makes this a break up song, which you might not catch at first, as it is very upbeat and funky.
You will hear more of the roadhouse type of rock n’ roll influence come through on the next two tracks (“Looking Good to Me” and “Somebody Else’s Shoes”). I almost hear a “Sticky Fingers” era type of Stones influence on these songs, and I don’t entirely know if the band has that direct influence from The Stones or whether the same crossover influences exist between the two. The songs still maintain that funky root of the composition but incorporate stand out rhythm and blues type of distorted guitar licks and solos. There’s a lot of style and dynamics to process between all that going on, harmonicas riffing, back up chorus singers, and Mr. Griff is belting soulfully over the top of all of it.
Tracks four and five (“Half a Chance” and “There For You”) swing back towards the more funky side, as guitars shift to wah-wah friendly riffs amongst catchy vocal hooks. Those are just my initial observations, as I have a tendency to focus there first being a guitar player myself. However, as with everything I’ve listened to so far on the album, there’s so much more to unpack, and from a lyrical standpoint, this is a good spot for me to touch on some of the things that stood out to me, lyrically. “Half a Chance” references themes of acceptance, self reflection and a message that you’ll “get it back, if you put it out” with the hook stating “if you live that way, you might have half a chance.” The profound lyrics add an extra layer to the dynamic, one I felt was similar in vibe to some of those Motown tunes in the late sixties / early seventies. “There for You” will get your butt moving and doing the Vinnie Barbarino dance. Okay well, it got me doing the Vinnie Barbarino dance. It is a very, very high probability that you are most certainly a better dancer than I am. The lyric “if you stand right by my side, I’ll make you glad to be alive” is delivered in such a well done way, totally reminds me of something Stevie would deliver in a similar manner. And again, the guitar work is something I really enjoyed.
On to track 6, “Pot Luck.” I would say this is the where the album peaks in intensity. Bong rips at the beginning of the track set the tone for what I feel is the band’s heaviest song. What I hear in this particular song are quirky, but still extremely melodic, funked up rhythms that strike me as solo-era John Lennon influence (think “Fame” that he wrote for Bowie, or elements of “Sometime in New York” especially the B side impromptu with Zappa). At this point the album has grown to funky rowdiness, right before the album’s title track “Hey Friend” brings it all in, slows it down, and mellows the vibe. More profound lyrics, a nice reverberating electric piano progression, and soulful vocals. Listening to the album front to back, I feel like this the point (hypothetically, figuratively speaking) where the band has been rocking and riling up a pub crowd all night before drawing them into a stretch of ballads after everyone’s been a few drinks in. Our hypothetical crowd at this point is ready to merrily sing together and cry on each other’s shoulders.
Tracks 8 and 9 continue to keep it chill with “Angels Falling” and “On the Weekends.” As I said before there’s a lot of things musically going on here with every track thus far, but with “Angels Falling” I can perhaps point to some aspects I may not have touched on before. For me, this was the track where the bass stood out quite well. As those piano chords ring out towards resolve, the bass does a great job of filling in the spaces of the rhythm section and in this one particularly, you can distinctly hear the bass licks played that compliment the melody quite nicely. “On the Weekends” sounds like it’s just Mr. Griff by himself on the piano, telling stories as a piano man.
I would almost say the same thing about track 10, “Later,” with one exception for this piece being that if you were listening to the album as a whole, you would feel like this was the closer. Mr. Griff sings solo over his piano “I’ll see you later” throughout the chorus. The song sounds like a sign off or a farewell. Mr. Griff specifically says that it is about “being broken, but knowing that you’ll still get there in the end.” However, rolling with my hypothetical pub crowd scenario that I invented (no, I won’t come off that), you are actually being set up for the figurative encore that is to be track 11, “Fuzzy Logic.”
Mr. Griff gets right back into the pocket funking it up with “Fuzzy Logic” in the album’s closing. What makes this song unique is that the band yet incorporates even more musical dimensions. I’ve already thrown out how many references now? Just writing this part from memory I’ve cited Stevie Wonder, Jamiraquai, Motown, The Stones, John Lennon and likely others that I am not immediately recollecting without scrolling up, and now Mr. Griff is gearing up the Funkadelic aspect of writing with “Fuzzy Logic.” You hear disco-like string arrangements over bass laden funk, while Mr. Griff spits verses now adding an element of hip hop to the repertoire. Is he actually able to do that while playing piano? I truly wonder! Mr. Griff has now left the hypothetical crowd with ambient psychodelia ringing throughout their ear drums as they reflect on what was just experienced. Great work guys!
You should go and support Mr. Griff here: