PREMIERE: WISHFUL THINKING BY THE GRAVEL PROJECT
November 17, 2017
The Gravel Project’s new record, Wishful Thinking, supersedes the jam-band persona by melding gritty guitar riffs and improvisational jazz methods.
Imagine if 90s alt-rock legends Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain were to join the junior-high jazz band. The result lies at the heart of The Gravel Project’s new album Wishful Thinking. Since 2010, when their first recordings dropped—an EP entitled More Ways Than One—The Gravel Project has played bars, breweries, and ski resorts throughout the Northeast. In corner stages and bustling lodges this team of learned musicians developed a sound that fuses jazz, blues, funk, and rock n’ roll. On Wishful Thinking they infuse their roots with a dose of heavy rock. Due out November 24th, this record features a distinct lineup change and a newfound emphasis on collaboration.
For years Andrew Gravel maintained the position of bandleader. He composed the music, wrote and sang the lyrics, and played all of the solos on guitar. This was until 2014 when Jordan Gravel, Andrew’s brother, joined the band. “I think our bass player missed a gig and Jordan had to fill in the bass parts,” said Gravel. Jordan now plays keys for The Gravel Project, both the Hammond B3 organ and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. He joined after the band’s self-titled debut record, and is an integral part in the creation of Wishful Thinking.
“I think it’s a little unusual for us to feature a B3 in the bass chair when we’re playing blues rock stuff and not just funk” says Andrew Gravel. “I think it makes the band much more interesting when it’s not all guitar solos. It’s a balance of Jordan playing organ and Rhodes solos and bouncing that off guitar solos.”
The Hammond B3’s smooth screams are certainly a key factor in the group’s expanding sound. Popularized by jazz pianist Jimmy Smith in the late 1950’s and later utilized in rock n’ roll by prog-rocker Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), this unique organ originally allowed studio bands to cover the bass part on soul and jazz records when there wasn’t a bassist available. Jordan Gravel’s manipulation of the organ provides Wishful Thinking with a fuller sound adding succinct layers of harmony and rhythm to his brother’s guitar playing.
Wishful Thinking is a collaborative endeavor. Andrew and Jordan Gravel co-wrote all of the music and most of the lyrics together while inviting two additional writers to contribute their words. The grinding upbeat track “That Low Friend,” the alt-rock break-up contemplation “Long Lost” and sturdy love ballad, “Wishful Thinking” are all written by Andrew Gravel and his wife, Leslie. Gravel also co-wrote the lyrics to “Not Alone” with his cousin Jeff Blaney. It’s a song “about living in the moment with good people and good times,” says Gravel. With Boston-based blues singer Sonya Rae Taylor belting backing vocals, this track embraces a vibe present in the sounds of Tedeschi Trucks Band, perfect for an outdoor festival.
While building a strong creative community, Andrew Gravel moves forward through connecting with his past. “I’m revisiting earlier influences I had in life,” says Gravel. “I realized that I had taken a departure from rock for a while.” This realization came when Gravel attended a recent Pearl Jam concert. Even though The Gravel Project’s first two records feature cutting guitar solos, which often embrace Duane Allman’s warm classic rock twang, funk and jazz characteristics still reigned.
After the show, Gravel dove back into alt-rock sounds that Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain spearheaded in the 1990s. Here he found an outlet for heavier lyricism and began “writing songs that are a bit darker.” “Loaded Words,” a fast-paced cut that deals with the upsurge of mass shootings and excessive gun violence in the U.S. exemplifies these influences more than any other track on the album. Gravel also become enamored with modern rock groups as well; Gary Clark Jr.’s delta blues, White Denim’s psychedelic compositions, and Doyle Bramhall II’s smooth blend of funk and classic rock all inspired Wishful Thinking.
“Everyone in the band [Brandon Mayes on congas, Dave Fox on drums, Jordan Gravel on keys, and Andrew Gravel on guitar] is capable of playing jazz proficiently,” says Gravel. “Ya know, that makes us unique even when we’re playing at rock volumes in these structured kinda songs. Still, there’s always going to be that element of improvisation.”
The record closes with a flare of experimentation. “Loyal Lilah Lovingly Dreams”—a fitting song title for any Beatles’ record—is a soothing instrumental that ebbs and flows with gentle electric guitar riffs and inventive percussion techniques. “It leaves you with a certain feel… showing a softer sweeter side of the band,” says Gravel. This dreamy track portrays their ability to traverse multiple genres.
The Gravel Project’s developing rock edge makes their proficiency in jazz stand out. Wishful Thinking exceeds a mere jam-band persona. In this raw melding of jazz and heavy rock, there is something deeper and more captivating at play.