Karl Grambo and the Roadhouse Redeemers have a rollicking, greasy good time on Bedrooms, Bars and Bibles. The only complaint is that the party, which clocks in at just eight songs, ends so quickly. Grambo opens with I Was There," featuring this grinding, grumpy riff and a gravelly, insistent voice that recalls Robbie Robertson. Then, after a blues-rocking verse, the the tune ascends to a soaring chorus straight out of Bruce Springsteen. Already, Bedrooms, Bars and Bibles is reading like a primer on roots rock except, rather than talking about the archetypical Americana characters of truck drivers, factory workers or heart-of-gold ladies of night, I Was There" has a Christian message.
It won't be the first time these guys hit a memorable groove, or find a new way to retell tried-and-true blues tales.
The Roadhouse Redeemers then back down into a scraggly R&B for Beautiful Dancer," wailing and weaving like Gregg Allman now in front of sinewy, dual guitar-toting band. As Grambo chats up a damaged lady friend, his bandmates carry on like a college-days wing-man, bucking up their buddy by shimmying toward a boisterous conclusion. Grambo quiets almost to a whisper on the contemplative Mercy," channeling modern-day Bob Dylan, but with far more tender openness. He's not preaching, and certainly not teaching, so much as commiserating with lovers who cannot love, those who are lastingly brokenhearted. I come to you in madness," Grambo confesses, I come to you so wrong. ... I come to you, that's all."
Smiley Hips" subsequently arrives like a fist in the middle of the chest, boasting a smacking, whiskey-barrel beat and a vocal that sounds like it was sung through a mouthful of gravel. A boozy group of backup singers join in for a rousing chorus of c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, and the groove somehow grows deeper, more dangerous. By the end, the locomotive Smiley Hips" has become a rafter-rattling, hip-shaking, all but undeniable call to the dance floor.
Needy Genius (Ode to Van)" is the cleanest modern blues on Bedrooms, Bars and Bibles, with a crisply incisive guitar lick and an even sharper lyric. Grambo somehow finds a lower measure early on in this sour-mash ballad, singing about an aching need for a cold and distant lover, then catches a thumping rhythm, memorably growling I'll go" six stunning times, one after another after another, before finally adding don't ask why." He admits to calling her name, deep in the blackness of midnight, then that lonely cry is echoed by a scalding guitar turn. If anything, the galloping King of Bergen County" is a rangier, heavier successor, with a musical bravado that recalls the earliest city blues and a country- boy storyline straight out of Muscle Shoals-era Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Except that Grambo is from the backwoods of Georgia, by way of ... New Jersey? Hey, ma, look at me now," he howls, as a roiling group of female singers shimmer on either side, I'm playing Gibson guitars, got a Cadillac car." Maybe those seemingly disparate swamplands, thousands of miles apart, have more in common than we knew. It's A Good Thing," meanwhile, has the sweeping musicality of an arena-rock power ballad, but without the fatty synths and lingering stench of hair spray. No, Grambo has too much deep-fried soul for that.
Grambo closes with the aptly titled Roots, Rock, G'Nite," a crunchy live cut that finds the Roadhouse Redeemers completely cutting loose. Here, Grambo resembles no one so much as John Lee Hooker as the track rumbles out, then his band settles into a nasty stomp. The assembled crowd catches on, then begins to clap and whistle, becoming almost like a new band member, pushing the assemblage along.
When he happily sings I need you woman, I need you every day," it's hard not to think he's talking about this music, too. There is an unadulterated joy surrounding this album. Karl Grambo and the Roadhouse Redeemers clearly love what they do. You just wished they stayed a little while longer.