“If rock ‘n’ roll ain’t killin you, you probably ain’t doin it right!” These words echo above the din as I try to digest the lyrical feast that is Grand Old Grizzly’s latest work, Pure Country Pyrite. The Houston band’s third studio album is a jailbreak of western Americana wisdom and gulf coast grit.
Lead vocalist and lyricist Will Thomas sings and writes songs the way gym rats workout, the way I breathe air: because he HAS to. There’s no other way. It’s merely a convenience that, according to Thomas himself, he “has some weird s#&@ to say that no one else is saying.
“The band formed in Houston in 2012. Thomas linked up with Guitarist Paul Beebe, bassist Mark Riddell and Drummer Chris Lewis. After recording an album in Beebe’s closet they decided to take these songs Thomas had written and start playing them live. Grand Old Grizzly was formed. They were soon nominated by the Houston Press as Houston’s Best New Band and its Best Country/Americana act. Their second record, CosmoNada, charted in the Top 100 on the national Americana charts, and the band has performed shows with a bevy of nationally touring acts, including Leon Russell, Blackberry Smoke, James McMurtry, Cody Canada and The Departed, Mike and The Moonpies, Roger Clyne, Rodney Crowell, Red Shahan, and Soulhat, to name just a few. They’ve been featured on a compilation in Texas Music Magazine and Chris Gray of Houston Press calls the sophomore release “one of the finest slices of Americana” cut by a Houston act in quite a while.
Chris Lewis left the band after the second album. Houston drumming virtuoso Isaias Gil took over drumming duties and the lineup has remained static since. The boys next stepped into Edgewater Studios with producer Derek Hames and engineer John Shelton to capture the band in a new light. The brand new songs, some road tested, some born in the studio, all served well in capturing a fresh perspective for the band.
The songs on Pure Country Pyrite explore themes both poignant (“Awkward” takes a look behind the curtain of a relationship that’s outlasted its shelf life) and peculiar (“Gundowners” sardonically explores the tale of a pair of murderous rampaging lovers on a crime spree). There’s salty barroom rock ‘n’ roll in “Papa Was a Radio” and touching heartbreak in “Sunlight.” At the end of it all, Grand Old Grizzly always does a great job leaving the listener wanting more. This is a record that will make you want to catch the band live, hoping to learn the stories behind the songs. But it’s also a road trip record filled with songs to sing along with.
Dripping with irony and humorous wit, Grand Old Grizzly is a band on the cusp.