[ rock/roots/reggae ]
Griz isn't a nickname you give to the fresh-faced or the clean-cut. It's the kind of thing you call a journeyman, a wily veteran.
It's a good fit for a fuzzy gentle giant like Chris Grunwald (even though the nickname predates the beard and the wild hair). For the past decade, Griz has been the model of blue-collar musicianship: hosting open mics and jam nights in suburban Irish bars, giving lessons (guitar, piano, bass and drums) up and down the Main Line, playing weddings and backing up his friends in Philly's increasingly formidable singer-songwriter scene.
Griz has played with a number of artists who've recently garnered some attention, including The Spinning Leaves, Hezekiah Jones and Andrew Lipke. "For a long time I have been listening to all these incredibly gifted local artists and trying to figure out why they hadn't blown up all over the place," he marvels.
But with his brand-new album, The Secret in the Garden, on the way, Griz's own tender voice and fleet-finger guitar style should turn some heads in his direction. In fact, it already has: His island-tinged mandolin blues song "Already Been Down This Road Before" just won him a top spot in a Philadelphia Songwriters Project contest and $5,000 worth of recording at Turtle Studios.
Unlike his first album, 2001's home-recorded Plant Life, The Secret in the Garden is a full-on studio endeavor produced by Lipke. "Company Man" has a waltzing tempo, a sliding guitar solo and a warm Simon & Garfunkel vibe. Strings swirl behind a catchy, doomy rocker called "Waiting for the End." Whether it's a folk, rock, country or reggae song, the acoustic guitar is prominent throughout.
"As people became more familiar with my songs, lead guitar players started sitting in with me so I never really had the opportunity to rock it out on electric," says Griz. "Lately I have been playing lead myself with Cowmuddy and other bands, and I love it. I used to listen to a lot of punk, and the electric really allows me to tap into that carefree attitude." There's a taste of the harder stuff on "Let's Be Free in America," the album's high-energy, piano-pounding spiritual centerpiece.
Griz's lyrics have a socially conscious streak and a philosophical bent. Down with violence. Up with love. It's a message even more plainly spoken in his occasional side project The Soul Shakedown Party, a Bob Marley tribute band.
"I definitely still believe the idealistic notion that music can bring groups of people together to change the world. Whether that means putting together shows that support or promote good causes or simply helping people see the world in a more loving and connected way, there is something essential and instinctual about music that is often overlooked," he says. "Love is the answer and music is the vehicle that drives it."
So that's the secret to life, but what's the secret in the garden? "If I told you it would no longer be a secret," he jokes. "The logistics involved in reprinting the discs and all that would be too much."
Sat., June 25, 7 p.m., $10 ($15 includes CD) with Cowmuddy, The Spinning Leaves, Ryan Tennis and Jaclyn Marie, J.D. McGillicuddy's, 473 Leverington Ave., 267-335-2672, jdmcgillicuddys.com.