Thanks to the wonderful people at Billboard http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6502370/steve-grand-all-american-boy-album-debut-exclusive the debut album of Steve Grand can be heard through a SoundCloud link [though pre-order of physical copies can be purchased through iTunes, Amazon and Google Play; signed copies can be found at his website.]
Pegged as a country singer, Grand is of the Pop genre by way of Singer/Songwriter types (Like a younger Bruce Springsteen what with a penchant for Americana and stuff). He came to prominence by way of the 2013 surprise viral sensation, "All American Boy". With other singles "Stay", "Back to California", "Time" and the freshly released "Whiskey Crime", Grand is on a momentum boost since All American Boy is the third most funded music project in the history of Kickstarter.
Here's how my review will work. All of the tracks will be judged individually; cohesion will determine the grade of the album later. Obvious factors like singing ability and the instrumental of the song will be included as well.
# of tracks- 13 (I happen to be using the aforementioned link as means of having the album.)
# of interludes- 0
Total time of album- 54:08
1. "Say You Love Me"- The singing on here is as consistent as any of the singles Grand has released so far. The instrumental/background music might give YA novel turned movie adaptation soundtrack realness, but the exuberance doesn't feel forced from Grand. Earnest and uptempo builds a decent opening track for this album.
2. "Red, White and Blue"- Despite some country adjacent instrumentals, the vibes emitted are still Grand's Americana/Pop blend. His lower registers have a nice subtle allure to them. While he possesses some of the best projection of a male singer of the last 10 years let alone of an up and coming act, something about this feel good track feels limited. Not bad, but his potential's bigger than this.
3. "We Are the Night"- An interesting start in sonic context, but the movie soundtrack vibes creep in again. Grand's lower registers once again showcase his talent just as much as his voice on full projected blast. Lyrically, this is his version of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"; in terms of self-confidence anthem, its frankness actually does bigger justice.
4. "All American Boy"- The title track that started his unexpected but welcome rise to where he is. A song that captures the joy turned pain of gay dudes crushing on a straight guy...shit does it get the job done. In terms of singing, this still stands as the best showcasing of his range and his projection. It's one of the few songs I've heard from up and coming acts I can't clock for anything.
5. "Soaking Wet"- Mentions of a lake and a beer does have me concerned; he's been labeled country, he's been on CNN and MSNBC to where he explained his country labeling is a slight false cognate...uh...maybe he's trying to say he's not bro-country like Luke Bryan and the countless others.
As for the song itself, it's more obvious pop friendly [compared to the last 4 tracks] and it's just meant to be a fun time.
6. "Loving Again"- By now, Grand est. another strength of his; lyrical frankness. Although the arrangement bears some real strong similarities to the title track, "Loving Again" is Grand in perhaps his most vulnerable state and that works. Emotionally deep but not soul-sucking, this song adds another facet to an already layered singer.
7. "Whiskey Crime"- Barfly chic that's tasteful. Although the lyric "That fruity Appletini, that's a Whiskey Crime" is slightly femme shaming [a tar-baby in the Gay male community] and redundant in that an Appletini is already fruity, the song is liquid courage captured in 3 minutes plus goodness.
Out of the songs released as singles, "Whiskey Crime" is the most exuberant ["Stay" is the peppiest] and fun-loving.
8. "Stay"- The follow-up single to the title track, this stands as the peppiest/Colbie Caillat adjacent he's ever been. The video for the song [despite Towerload calling it a glorified Pepsi commercial] displays everything the song has going for it; Happy-Go-Lucky Steve offering beer to a guy that tickles his fancy...wait a minute; Steve...are you sure you're not country? O_-
For all the non-important gripes, "Stay" showcases more of Grand's skills and the listener is a fool if they don't stay with him.
9. "Next to Me"- A simple but not simplistic song in which Grand enjoys the sight of a guy dancing next to him (Which is code for "I want to screw you and maybe love you or stuff.") The "ooooooooooh" vocal riff in the chorus captures the knuckle biting joy of seeing a hot guy that makes you lose subtext and tell him you want him "down on your knees like you're dyin' to praise the good Lord..." [actual lyric from the song]
10. "Time"- The sweetest of the songs released by Grand thus far. Despite this song being subtle, the song does service his singing in some ways better than a lot of the songs on the album [though that's not a slam on Grand and production co. in any way for their work on the album]. Yet, this song has one of the better instrumentals of the album. It's just more obvious-pop friendly and not saying the other instrumentals suck. This one just has more signature to it.
11. "Better Off"- The vocal layering in the beginning is an interesting production choice, but it doesn't work here. Grand can actually sing and rather well; why use the Nate Ruess/fun. layering trick on someone whose voice is actually good? Story wise, the "we're not meant to be together" narrative doesn't exactly fit with his previous entries here, but it isn't like there was any prerequisite saying he only had to play the "Let's get married" type.
It's a seemingly radical shift in the narrative, but it isn't something he should be maligned for. It's another plus in this album.
12. "Run"- The start of this cut from the song has a palatable pop/rock vibe which finally gets across the point that Steve Grand isn't country, but fundamentally pop [his words, not just mine]. The rest of the song does have a self-confidence anthem feel to it though "We Are the Night" did that a little better. Though "Run" gets some credit for improving on what Lady Gaga tried to do on "Gypsy" [the whole "let's blow this pop stand because we're better than this shit" vibe.]
13. "Back to California"- The only song of his I admit to not totally gelling with...as a single. As an album cut it makes better sense as it has the other ingredients that made the rest of the album work; lyrical frankness, lower registers and full projection working in his favor and things that made the other songs...better than this. It's a 3.25 out of 5 while the other songs average between 4 and 5 out of 5 [by now "All American Boy" cemented its rep as the best song off this album] but still, Grand has a lot to be proud of on this album.
OVERALL Grade: A-/B+++
Steve Grand and his supporters with money so far should have a lot to be proud of as the album has really frank and earnest songs that more or less are delivered with vocal prowess. However, he does need to take some righteous hits for these things:
- Having suspiciously bro-country elements on "Soaking Wet", "Stay" and "Next to Me". Being on CNN and MSNBC essentially saying you're pop but sneaking in these things really doesn't help with justifying a place in the type of genre you claim to be in.
- The vocal layering on "Better Off". Cool in theory but shouldn't be used on one of the few good voices to emerge from an ever saturated music field.
- The unintentionally femme-bashing lyric on "Whiskey Crime" [also, we know anything with apple in it is bound to have a fruit-like taste : P]
These are the only gripes to have but they still don't detract from the overall goodness of this album. If he hasn't already, he needs to celebrate All American Boy as a significant achievement; especially one that sounds like the musical lovechild of Bruce Springsteen and Colbie Caillat.
[If you want a special bonus, check out Grand's cover of the Elton John song "Bennie and the Jets" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ArcGsUkUdw]