Tim Grimm and the Family Band – A stranger in this time
Since the beginning of this millennium Tim Grimm has been working on a body of work that can now be counted among the best and most consistent that contemporary folk and Americana has to offer. So far Grimm has delivered one great album after another, with “Farm Songs” (2009) and “The Turning Point” (2013) among my favorite albums by any artist.
His new album “A Stranger in This Time” may also fall into this category.
Both small and large issues are always handled appropriately by Grimm. Whether domestic scenes or songs about life in Indiana where Tim comes from, they are both made tangible and real and can make you homesick for places where you’ve never even been. You only need to close your eyes to find yourself between the amber waves of the grain fields of the “Hoosier State”.
But also the drama of Anne Frank ( “Anne in Amsterdam”) on his previous album is told in an honest, sober and moving way.
And now there is “A Stranger in This Time”, released under the name “Tim Grimm and the Family Band.” Apart from Tim himself, the album is fully played and sung by his wife Jan and sons Lucas and Connor Jackson. Also guest musicians Hannah Linn on percussion and Diederik van Wassenaer on fiddle can be considered as Grimm family members.
The atmosphere and theme of this latest album are sometimes more bitter than we are used to. This is entirely due to the extremely harsh tone and the final result of the recent US election campaign. The Grimms never made a secret of where their sympathy lay: “Feel the Bern” was their motto.
The unfortunate fact that things turned out differently and that the country is now led by someone who in every sense represents the opposite of decency, sincerity, social compassion and humanity as advocated by the Grimms came as a huge shock. The line “We woke up this mornin’ on the wrong side of fate” expresses the feeling of millions of people after the elections, “what the hell went wrong”.
The tone is already set in the first song “These Rollin ‘Hills’. Tim’s warm voice leads us through the familiar and idyllic landscape where he grew up, but after only a few couplets a dark shadow is cast over it:
I know the seasons change
But this one I’ve come to fear
Songs of joy turned to silence
And hope turned into fear
Winter will be hard this year
In “Gonna Be Great”, co-written with son Jackson Grimm, he takes it a step further. With a deep voice vaguely reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, Grimm is singing less in metaphors and more straightforward:
He kept telling us all
We were gonna be great
But the lies in his mouth
Were twisted with hate
Of course no explanation is required which “He” this is referring to. It’s probably the darkest song on this album, both lyrically and musically.
The next song “So Strong” is a much more traditional one and is a love song full of imagery. After the gloom evoked by the first two songs, there will always be love to offer comfort and resist evil.
“Thirteen Years” is a prime example of a storytelling song. A tree that was struck by lightning in 1947, many decades later provides the wood for a new guitar for Tim. What happens inbetween could be the script of a short film. A masterclass in songwriting in just under 5 minutes.
The “Black Snake” introduced in the next song is a controversial oil pipeline and it describes the disastrous environmental consequences. In the America of the year 2017 the song is becoming more topical than ever by the week and now only seems to describe the tip of the iceberg.
The world that is threatened by the Black Snake, is made tangible for the listener in “Finding Home” by describing it as everyone’s personal universe, “Home”.
It’s not just a building or a roof over your head…
…It’s a feeling, a knowing, believing that you belong
No matter how ruthless and unforgiving the world currently seems to be, if we can bring it back to our own micro level everything can still be fine.
In “Hard Road” Tim further explores that path by describing his love for his wife Jan and their life together.
The beautiful “The Hungry Grass” was written a few years ago. During a couple of trips through Ireland, Tim was inspired by some of the stories he heard in the Heritage Center in Skibbereen. Stories about the great Irish famine mid 19th century when the population was severely decimated. A historical theme but it could easily be translated to the current situation in a number African countries.
“Darlin ‘Cory” is a traditional arranged by Jackson Grimm where the Grimms once again prove they also fully master traditional music and bluegrass.
In “Over the Waves” the Grimms seem to want to reassure us that good will finally triumph over the evil that is currently in power, before “Over Hill and Dale” gently and safely lulls us to sleep with the final words of the album: “Darkness fades to light”. We’ve come full circle.