Bluegrass has certainly progressed and planted itself into the indie mainstream in recent years thanks to the likes of Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. Yet there are others that don’t necessarily aim to please the masses but play to play. And string musicians surely know how to play and when they do it smokes.
With Spaceman’s Wonderbox (out 5/21), Memphis’ Graber Gryass stretches out the bluegrass realm, pushing genre limits even further than the traditionally-based Late Bloom from 2020 recorded at the same sessions. The instrumentation expands from the traditional to musical extremes as they add such elements as a homemade bass erhu, harmonium, 12-string and gypsy-jazz guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, and harmonica as texture.
“We planted ourselves within bluegrass tradition with our first record,” says the band’s namesake and principal songwriter, Michael Graber, “with the intention of branching out and pushing boundaries on our second.” This set of 12 original songs takes influence from a wide-open set of senses and left-of-center benchmarks: 60s pop and psychedelic music, the folk revival, 70s art rock, early jazz, world music, and introspective singer-songwriters, all performed with acoustic instruments.”
The new record, according to Graber, is “like a radio that’s been left on a volunteer station you hear really late one Saturday night—that’s the concept.” “Spaceman” is what Graber’s bandmates call him, and you can explore their wild, spoken-word release Nectar Drops if you want to follow that line of inquiry even further.
Glide is premiering the broad palette of “Ever Changing Seasons” that cross-sects ’60s folk to masterful fingerpicking. If Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros relocated to Tennessee and sold their Burning Man innuendo for something more wholesome and Renaissance, we’d get the scene and sounds of Grayber Gryass.
“The band wanted to sound like the Mamas and the Papas from an ecovilliage homesteading community today. The song is about how we adapt and learn from the seasons, written by Michael Graber. Kitty Dearing, Gia Welch, Jason Freeman, and Andy Ratliff sing harmony, while Michael takes lead vocal duties. Pay close attention to the conga-like rhythm played on banjo by Randal Morton. Khari Wynn, musical arranger of Public Enemy, plays lead guitar,” says Michael Graber.