One of the joys of attending a music festival is the unexpected discovery, an act, perhaps one you’ve never heard of, that just knocks you out. OK, it doesn’t happen that often but when Blabber’n’Smoke was at Kilkenny Roots earlier this year we did have such an epiphany when we popped into a hotel to see what the action was. On stage was a classic country line up playing classic country songs, the singer, well, his voice was immediately compelling, worn and wearied at times but able to soar and even yodel at times. It was Prinz Grizzley of course and it was something of a surprise when it transpired that the guys had travelled from Austria to play several shows over the weekend. It seemed to be a weekend well spent as Blabber’n’Smoke weren’t the only ones impressed with the band the most talked about act and even getting some PR representation from the jaunt.
Prinz Grizzley is the creation of Chris Comper, an Austrian who has been on the indie scene over there for some years before gravitating into his current country mode. The way he tells it he “Dug deep down in the rich grits of good ol´ country, folk and blues. The more he dug, the more he returned, back home to rural feelings that bound him to his roots in western Austria. Surrounded by rugged wild country, with god-loving, hardworking folk, whose simple living and gentle loving he finds an inspiration for songs that might have been written across the ocean.” And that pretty much sums up Come On In, the debut album – eleven songs which set Comper firmly in the Americana field as he ranges across country, honky tonk and romantic Western ballads. Listening to the album it’s clear that Comper did indeed dig deep, inhaling all he exhumed as he turns in a superb set of songs expertly crafted by his musicians with pedal steel weeping away along with some horn and string arrangements that elevate several of the songs. His lyrics (in English) are impressive, his love songs intimate and poetic while he also has a fine way with a story song. Many of the songs contain striking images and metaphors brought to life by his expressive vocal range.
The album opens with a classic sound, plaintive harmonica and softly strummed guitar introducing Wide Open Country before a lonesome pedal steel weighs in and the song slides into a slow waltz time affair. It could be an outtake from Neil Young’s Harvest days as Comper sings a song soaked in gratitude for being in love. The jauntier country lope of Give Me One More Reason shifts the band into saloon bar territory, fittingly enough as the song’s about betrayal as Comper sings, “I was worried about the signs Lord, she brought banc to our home. The smell of party and excitement lay upon her.” There’s more country heartache on the yearning I may Be Late, a cracking number with some superb curling pedal steel as the protagonist tries to persuade an old girlfriend to abandon her fickle man and come back to him. Again, Comper has a way with words here as he sings, “I heard he always spends your money in a topless bar, When you come home from the nightshift all you find is an empty jar.” Personal Hell returns to the simple country rock lope of the opening song, albeit with a chunkier guitar propping it up, and again it’s an offer to be there in times of need and with the accordion accompaniment and Comper’s high lonesome voice it has echoes of The Band in it. For some reason Comper seems keen to play the other man at times. Fiery Eyes, an infectious number with horn arrangements sees him again trying to lure a woman from her man. Mind you, when he sings, “To be honest with you, I think leaving would be the right thing to do,” she would have to have a hard heart not to side with him.
Having proved he’s a dab hand with his country version of Don Juan, Comper turns his hand to some shitkicking rockabilly on the hard livin’, hard drinkin’ tale of Mountain’s Milk while Irene is a frontier song as a rancher in his dying days gives thanks to his better half and recalls their disappointments. Twang guitar and pedal steel evoke a wide-open space, almost Ghost riders in The Sky territory and Comper rides with his as his voice soars towards the end. Aging is the issue again on the powerful and glistening Walls, the pedal steel here gliding like a cosmic Jerry Garcia, as Comper inhabits a bedridden geriatric raging against the dying of his light. A couple of the songs are more intimate. I Can See Darkness seems to be another meditation on aging while the closing Tell Me Why finds Comper in a retrospective mood as he wallows through past memories, the delicate string arrangement adding a melancholy air.
The album confirms the impression we gained when we saw Prinz Grizzley all those months ago. Comper is an incredibly talented chap, tapping into a rich seam of country music and stamping his own personality on it. Word is that Prinz Grizzley will be touring the UK next year, if so, do be sure to go and see them.