"I was never ready — for the big show," Torn Shorts frontman Josh Grabert howls on "Brow St.," one of many noteworthy cuts from the new debut album Through the Mill, and he couldn't be further from the truth. Torn Shorts is onto something special with a melodic blend of blue-eyed soul, whiskey-soaked roots and blues, and catchy hooks.
Through the Mill marks the official full-band debut from Torn Shorts, founded by East Bay native Grabert, who briefly worked the one-man-band circuit following a nice run with his previous outfit, Gamblin' Hands (which landed a few noms in our Best Music Poll a few years back). Grabert's first entry as Torn Shorts was a demo of sorts titled Life On a River, which was featured on RI's NPR outlet (listen at ripr.org) last year. The aforementioned "Brow St." (named for Grabert's former residence in Barrington), which appeared on the Gamblin' Hands' 2010 EP Far Away Cars, is revamped into a breezy, radio-ready beauty and serves as an excellent album opener, with Grabert's vocals leading the way with the lines, "Drink that scotch she said, before the bad news/That's why I keep cryin' the nice guy blues." "Life On a River" also reappears, but the full-band treatment (particularly the fuzzy guitars) elevates the track and provides a nice platform for the band to jam-the-fuck-out.
"There are some improv, jam session moments on the record with guitar solos and things like that, but we also rehearsed the shit out of them to really lock down the arrangements," Grabert said. "I may come in with some lyrics and chord progressions, but everyone gets their vibe on it and that's what makes our sound."
While Grabert is a skilled multi-instrumentalist (having performed while simultaneously working a harmonica, guitar, and kick drum), he clearly enjoys jamming with his crew. His equally talented bandmates played musical chairs, with previous bassist Nick Molak returning to guitar and former drummer Zach Zarcone now on bass. Grabert and drummer Brendan Thompkins collaborated on some of the lyrics. The crew enriched this updated version and brims with melodic energy.
"I never wanted it to be the 'Josh Grabert Band,' " he said when we caught up earlier this week. Having known the ever-humble Grabert for a few years now, it's great to him so confident and enthused about the lineup and new album.
"The live show is getting super-tight, and everyone is killing it," Grabert said following a recent string of shows around the region. "I'm looking forward to showcasing these new songs at the release party, as they are really taking on a life of their own.
Last year the band quickly surpassed its Through the Mill Kickstarter campaign goal and then some, which always leaves me curious as to an artist's outlook on fund-raising via fans and friends (some decry the DIY integrity of it, etc.). "We never asked for crazy amounts of money, just enough to get the music out there," Grabert told me. "We are still a very 'DIY' band.
"The Kickstarter campaign was great for us," Grabert continued. "There was much more support out there from people than I had realized, and we are very grateful." The band recorded at their HQ over the summer with friend Steve McLaughlin, who engineered the entire album.