If you’re a band that has a well-earned reputation for top-notch original material, an album of covers had better add something worthwhile to listeners’ understanding and appreciation of what you do. Otherwise, beyond a busman’s holiday, what’s the point?
The Grip Weeds have long since established their rock-solid rep as purveyors of hard-charging, muscular (yet supremely melodic) rock. The term “power pop” is criminally overused, but if it’s applied in its original context – as in Pete Townshend’s adoption of the term to help describe his band’s approach circa The Who Sell Out – then it fits The Grip Weeds like a sleek leather glove.
Dig is the band’s latest album. And its deluxe edition, Dig is a double album. Twenty-five songs – all covers – do in fact tell us a great deal about the band. And while longtime acolytes of the band (like this writer) aren’t likely to discover many surprises – nothing on the order of, “So they influenced the band?” – Dig is a wonderfully consistent musical thrill ride.
A personal note, if I might, simply to draw the connection between my own musical orientation and the music on Dig. No less than four of the songs on the album – “Shape of Things to Come,” “Journey to the Center of the Mind, “Lies” and “I Had too Much to Dream (Last Night)” – were covered by my own retro-psych garage band The Echoes of Tyme on our own self-released 2003 album, Sun Greets the Dawn. The Grip Weeds do a far better job than did we, but that’s to be expected.
And a bunch of the others were in our set list, and in the set list of a later band I put together, Men From Uncle. Point being: I. Love. This. Music. Some of the tunes are easy to play; others pose a bit of a challenge. But what they all share is that they are FUN to play. And The Grip Weeds clearly agree; they tear into these songs with exuberance.
The Grip Weeds nail what is special about these tunes, and don’t seek to reinvent the tunes. Yet somehow the New Jersey foursome makes each and every tune sound like a Grip Weeds original. They display a deep understanding of the material, whether it’s proto-garage or something a bit more ambitious and/or challenging.
Highlights abound. “I Love You” was a hit for People, and covered by The Zombies. The Grip Weeds do great things with it, and Kristin Pinnell’s lead vocal spots on the song are a welcome touch. If you own a copy of Nuggets, you’ll be familiar with most of this material. If not, welcome to a world of wonder (and go buy Nuggets). And not for nothing does the band enlist one Lenny Kaye to pen a liner note essay for Dig.
The band sneaks a bit of original material into the mix, but it’s done in such a stylistically consistent manner that you will be forgiven for not even noticing. And the band’s taste in its choices of material is impeccable, digging deep into the era for some unexpected choices by The Velvet Underground and The Beatles – not the songs you’re likely to expect.
You might even find yourself wiping away a nostalgic tear or two as you luxuriate in covers of Thunderclap Newman and The Turtles. The lockdown-era Dig is fully realized retro excursion of the highest order. Find it, buy it. But make sure you get your hands on the Deluxe version.