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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,

(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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AN AMERICAN RECORD

GRAYSON HUGH (Swamp Yankee Records, 2010)

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(Excerpt from a review in CMAWorld.com by Bob Doerschuk)

"Hugh's recent personal and artistic achievements inform every track on his new album, 'An American Record'. This overlay of art and heart breathes a gospel air into the irresistibly churchy 'Tell Me How You Feel', paints a stark yet beckoning landscape on 'North Ohio', cranks up the funk

(Excerpt from a review in CMAWorld.com by Bob Doerschuk)

"Hugh's recent personal and artistic achievements inform every track on his new album, 'An American Record'. This overlay of art and heart breathes a gospel air into the irresistibly churchy 'Tell Me How You Feel', paints a stark yet beckoning landscape on 'North Ohio', cranks up the funk in the cocky, horn-stabbed strut and haunting chanted coda of 'Swamp Yankee', hangs a lover’s plea over an elegant and unforgettable chorus hook on 'Give Me One Good Reason'' … Every track tells its story with a mix of passion, craft and impact that’s rare in our time. In flaunting the discipline and knack for accessibility that distinguished his earlier recordings and compositions, An American Record' confirms his return as a commercial as well as artistic force.



From the worst of his times, Hugh emerged with a strength and focus that filters now into his work. “I had to confront a lot of my faults, and that self-reflection has reformed my music,” he explains. “It got simpler because I learned how to let the feeling of a song distill in silence for months. They’re kind of cooking, so that when I actually write, it comes quickly.

”

It also empowered Hugh to find universal meaning in his lyrics, which draw from what he’s witnessed but convey that emotion directly to listeners and their lives. “For instance, ‘North Ohio’ came from my visiting my grandmother’s grave by the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio,” he explains. “But it’s about the emotion, not that specific place and time. Look at Thomas Wolfe: 'Look Homeward, Angel', 'You Can’t Go Home Again' and  'Of Time and the River'. Images of rivers figure prominently in them all. It’s all universal."



That, too, explains the range of 'An American Record', whose embrace is wide enough to encompass working-man’s rock, roadhouse blues, calls to glory answered from the amen corner, a smattering of jazz and more. “It’s a record and it’s American, with all kinds of musical references,” Hugh says. “There’s bluegrass, soul, funk, folk, rock … There’s no single musical theme, but it’s all human.”



It’s all human: In three words, that’s what Grayson Hugh has learned about music and its power to touch and move, inform and inspire. It also explains why he takes it personally when he hears something that fails to achieve these goals, to the point of almost taking it to the world on Facebook.



“I write for myself ultimately because that’s the way I spit out how I see the world,” he says. “It’s a cathartic process. But when a fan writes to me and says, ‘This affects me,’ that’s the payoff.”



With 'An American Record', the payoff is just beginning. To borrow a phrase from another writer of note, Grayson Hugh has been there and is back again. His story – our story – has to be heard."



-Bob Doerschuk, CMAworld.com, April 21, 2010

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ROAD TO FREEDOM

GRAYSON HUGH (MCA Records, 1992)

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Called one of the Top Ten Albums of 1992 by BILLBOARD MAGAZINE!

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BLIND TO REASON (RCA Records, 1988)

GRAYSON HUGH

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"Blind To Reason" was my major label debut on RCA Records, released in September 1988. My international hit "Talk It Over" came from this album, as did the other hits: "Bring It All Back" and "How Bout Us" (a duet with the late great Betty Wright). I had some wonderful musicians on this record: My good friend bassist Fernando Saunders (he played

"Blind To Reason" was my major label debut on RCA Records, released in September 1988. My international hit "Talk It Over" came from this album, as did the other hits: "Bring It All Back" and "How Bout Us" (a duet with the late great Betty Wright). I had some wonderful musicians on this record: My good friend bassist Fernando Saunders (he played bass on "Talk It Over" and "Romantic Heart"), (Verdine White (he played bass on "Two Hearts"), Rick Derringer (he played guitar on "Romantic Heart", "Tears Of Love" and "Empty As The Wind"), ira Siegel (he played guitar on "Hard Life", "Bring It All Back"), Tom Majesky (he played guitar on "Bring It All Back", "Finally Found A Friend", "Blind To Reason" and guitar and electric sitar on "Talk It Over"). Then there the fabulous singers: Will Downing, Craig Derry, Audrey Wheeler, Cindy Mizelle, The Black Flames: (Nate Burgess, Joe Adams, John Sykes, Don Richardson), Percussionist Joey Cardello (congas on "Romantic Heart" and "Tears Of Love"), Cedric Sampson (drums on "Two Hearts"). And of course my excellent producers Michael Baker and Axel Korell.

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OFF THE ROAD

GRAYSON HUGH (Swamp Yankee Records, 2020)

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It was 1990. My major label debut “Blind To Reason” was released on RCA Records in September 1988. After auditioning and rehearsing a brand new band for two months, my agent Jonny Podell had me opening for Dickey Betts and his band on a U.S. tour that lasted two months. After that tour, my band and I opened for Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson for

It was 1990. My major label debut “Blind To Reason” was released on RCA Records in September 1988. After auditioning and rehearsing a brand new band for two months, my agent Jonny Podell had me opening for Dickey Betts and his band on a U.S. tour that lasted two months. After that tour, my band and I opened for Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson for another tour of the States. After month of that, Ian added Jack Bruce into his band and I toured with them for a tour of mostly western states. Minneapolis in the dead middle of February is colder than Alaska. I had quickly assembled a new band and began touring. the time records and tours, after living in Los Angeles for a while, I moved back east. I rented a little farmhouse in East Hampton, out in the hinterlands of Long Island. I lived there from 1990 to 1993. It was my writing hideaway. I'd go out on tour for a couple months, then come back home to my little cottage in East Hampton. I wrote these songs in that house. For inspiration, I'd take long walks all around that town, past the windmills, past the farms and fields, out to the cliffs and beaches. I'd drive out to Montauk, sometimes take the ferry over to Shelter island or over to Block Island. There were alot of memories of lighthouses and the sea when I think of those years. These songs were all recorded in my home studio out there, with all tracks done by me.

Note: Though these songs were written quite a few years ago, they seem to be even more relevant today. All of us musicians really have been "off the road" during this pandemic. The cover photo was taken by my wife Polly Messer during one of our many walks in the woods, to help keep us sane, during this shutdown of business as usual. Enjoy the music and God bless.

  • Grayson Hugh
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