An old-fashioned backwoods rocker with an absorbing tale, “Grampa Carl” builds with a well-plotted dramatic arc towards a culminating guitar solo of Youngian ferocity. That a song like this can succeed in 2011—and boy does it ever—is both fascinating and inspiring. Moral of the story, yet again, is you just have to be good. Related moral of the story: being good doesn’t necessitate being different, just good. Or, maybe, better: being really good is itself a valid way of being different.
Things start with a drumbeat and a spoken introduction, with co-front man Ryan Wayne McEathron letting us know that the song is about his great-grandfather, who smuggled booze from Canada into the U.S. during Prohibition. Bass and keyboards join in, the lead guitar slightly after, and McEathron shifts from speaking to singing so casually you almost don’t notice. The casual authority of both the song and the band is what carries the day here—that and, specifically, Ryan’s cousin Dave on guitar. Dave’s got it going on, big-time: he can support the vocals with inventive but not intrusive licks on the one hand, while stepping out in between verses with honest-to-goodness lead guitar lines on the other. That indie bands have generally put the lead guitar aside is one of 21st-century rock’n’roll’s lesser accomplishments. But: I fearlessly predict that the ability to show mastery on an actual physical instrument will become more and more highly valued as the new decade wears on, and we grow collectively tired of having reduced most of our exertions to touching fingers to screens. (One can always dream, can’t one?)
“Grampa Carl” is the third track on the band’s second album, Matador Sunset, which is coming out at the end of the month on Pheromone Recordings. Because I’m so impressed with the simple power of this band and this song, I’m posting a video performance of it that does nothing but show the McEathron cousins and company doing their thing. No actors were harmed in the filming of this video.