Back To The Soul

GRAYSON HUGH (Swamp Yankee Records, 2015)

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(Excerpt from an iTunes review by Leonard Pitts, Jr. - Miami Herald journalist, author and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary)

"In 2010, an ambitious 14-song set called "An American Record" heralded the return of Grayson Hugh. And now, five years later, comes "Back To The Soul".

"Back To The Soul" is about going through it all, surviving through it all, gathering the skeins of a sometimes-difficult life – the alienation, the loneliness, the brokenness – and weaving them into a song of redemption, a redemption that comes, not despite those things, but because of them.

Grayson sings this explicitly in "Thank You Lord", a stark ballad that sits at the emotional center of the album. It is a searingly-intimate letter to God, a meditation on those lost years, on their blind alleys and degradations and on the amazing grace by which he was delivered and redeemed. “I needed every stumble, drink and failure, every one,” he sings, to deliver him to this blessed new place in his life, to make him the man he has become.

It’s a theme Grayson returns to in "Already In Love With You", a smoldering ballad. “Now, when I look back it all seems so clear,” he sings. “I took every step I needed to get me to here. If I had known what this journey would cost I might just have stayed home never knowing what I had lost. I would have missed out on a miracle.”

None of which is to suggest that "Back To The Soul" is an album of somber pieties. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the music of a man who’s come through the fire and wants to dance about it.

"We Were Havin’ Fun" is a light-hearted paean to young love, young music and those good old days when “Summer was a feelin’ and there was sunshine all around” fitted me with an Afro I haven’t worn in 40 years, and put me back behind the wheel of that raggedy Pontiac I junked in 1978, going to pick up my baby, with the Commodores blaring on the AM radio. In other words, it took me back. It made me feel good.

The title song and "It’s Got Soul" are cut from similar cloth, affectionate, up-beat homages to the truth, rhythm (and, okay, blues) of that foundational American music. "Back To The Soul" even name checks some of the greatest soul men of the last half century.

Among the other highlights: "We’re Gone Again", a slow-burn of irresistible sexual attraction; "Everybody’s Hangin’ On", which recalls Marvin Gaye’s immortal "What’s Goin’ On", both in the way it opens with a party and, more substantively, in its gentle insistence upon our shared humanity upon a shared planet; "Motorcycle Ridin’", a barroom blues fable about two-wheeled escape down endless highways, the ride more important than the destination.

And don’t miss "Gettin’ On With My Life" - an anthem of a different kind of escape – of the conscious decision to leave behind a stuck place and embrace the promise and the uncertainty of a fresh dawn.

“I’m gettin’ on with my life,” sings Grayson, “now a new day is here. I’m gonna give up my excuses, all my sorrows, sadness and my fear.”

Which feels like a pretty fair summation of the album and, perhaps, of the man who made it.

This is music of and for people who know what it is to be scarred and scared, who have been knocked down hard a time or two and had to find their way back to their feet. It is music of and for people who can appreciate a good horn section or bass groove, who know how to slide on the grease that oozes when the organ hits a lick just right, who are suckers for a rough-sweet voice singing the truth.

Finally, this is music of and for those who have a little life behind them – and a whole lot more ahead. It is both realization and reminder that, for all the changes that life takes you through, if you hang with it and fight through it, it will eventually, inevitably, round the corner and bring you back.

Back to self. Back to joy. Back to love. Back to, well…you know."

  • Leonard Pitts, Jr., August 1, 2015
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