Josh Grabert tears through competition
It looks like the good folks with the WBRU Rock Hunt got it right again this year. They usually do (not counting 1993 when a band intimately related to the author of this article lost out to Angry Salad…but I digress). And as with acts like The Schemers in 1982, and Sasquatch & The Sick-A-Billys in 2005, Providence’s own Torn Shorts has taken top honors in 2013’s edition of the prestigious competition.
Technically, Torn Shorts is the collective name for the creative efforts of the multitalented musician/songwriter Josh Grabert. Though Grabert has gained a great deal of notoriety performing live shows throughout New England as a one-man-band under the Torn Shorts banner, Grabert has enlisted the help of Zach Zarcone on bass, Nick Molak on guitar and drummer Brendan Tompkins to record Through The Mill.
With the album’s opening track “Brow St,” Grabert demonstrates an ability to engage the listener with radio-friendly, hook-laden rock & roll. Delivered with a voice reminiscent of Albert Hammond combined with a bit of a “New Morning”era Bob Dylan, he establishes himself as a virile songwriter. This fact is underscored all the more by his creative use of space within the verses, an underused yet potent technique, not only with writers, but soloists as well. “’Drink that scotch’ she says before the bad news – that’s why I keep crying The Nice Guy Blues – I was never ready for the big show – the older I get the less I grow.”
“Dying Houses” is a dark requiem for urban decay and those who endure the daily fight for survival. More than just a lament or a first-person decrying of their own dreadful situation, Torn Shorts presents an indictment on all of society for a broad sense of apathy toward their strife. “All these dying houses on these dying streets, in the deadest part of town – Don’t offer up any redemption, just cry your tears while we drown.”
As lofty as much of the lyrical content is throughout Through The Mill, great musicianship is at the forefront of the album. The groove-drenched instrumental “Bob’s House” and the hypnotic “Whiskey Song” are standout examples of that tuneful proficiency. Quite cleverly, the latter employs a very cool technique of using what I presume was a mono demo as a looped backing track, and then overdubbing vocals and band on top of it.
From what I understand, Josh Grabert and his Torn Shorts put on a wildly frenetic and energized live show, somewhat contrastive to the overall vibe of Through The Mill. Admittedly, I’ve yet to see them in action. But judging them solely on the album, I’m quite confident that WBRU got it right once again in 2013.