Idiot Grins channel Stax Records and Memphis soul with new album, 'Big Man'
The Idiot Grins

Idiot Grins are a Bay Area R&B outfit committed to revitalizing the classic sounds of ‘60s soul. For their new record, Big Man, the band traveled to Memphis to invoke the heart of the ‘Birthplace of Rock ’n’ Roll’, going so far as to record in legendary Ardent Studios of Stax Records fame. Big Man is equal parts country rock and Memphis soul, an interesting marriage of genres, but as Grins guitarist and lead producer Randy Strauss explains, “soul and country come from the same place: the heart.” You could also argue they both come from Tennessee…

Lead vocalist, John Hansen, doesn’t rock either the classic Stax vocal or that blue collar country twang. Rather, his voice has an alluring roughness that's reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Jakob Dylan, placing him somewhere in between those two musical realms. In fact, there are times when Idiot Grins sounds a lot like Dylan’s Wallflowers, particularly in “Paso Robles.” The album’s ninth track transition Big Man into a three-song, country-heavy coda. Its steel pedal, organs and dirt roads vibe epitomize the balance the band is capable of striking between their two genres of choice. It’s also one of the tracks on which Strauss pays homage to country rock maven, Gram Parsons. Strauss owns the guitar Parsons played on both his last tour and his last record, and his country spirit rings through the finale of the album.

Most of the record, though, places firmly within the Stax realm; Big Man was even mastered with the same equipment that mastered many a Stax record. A soulful, feel-good, jangly character strings the record together, and its titles—e.g., “Snuggy Do” and lead single, “Poppy Piss”—are as playful as the songs they represent. The latter track is especially indicative of the band's reaches back into that honey pot of Memphis soul, complete with those classic horns that sublimely capture the essence of the ‘60s. To best realize that essence, Idiot Grins enlisted the services of Johnny Bamont—sax player for 80’s super group Huey Lewis and the News—and Mic Gillette—iconic trumpeter of Tower of Power. It's simply another testament to the lengths the band was willing to go in order to realize their authentic, contemporary interpretation of the music they've idolized for years. Their passion paid off, and now there are idiot grins sliding off the faces of all those they've left in their sonic wake.