Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival
The fourth album from Project Grand Slam, The Queen’s Carnival, follows 2015’s roaring success Made in New York. The band has once again set their sights on finding another unusual cover to showcase their imaginative vision and their selection this time, a stunning reinvention of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, is by far their most revelatory effort yet. It is breathtaking, over the course of the release’s eleven song, to hear the sheer diversity at the band’s command, but the cover featuring vocalist Lucy Woodward is the burning heart of this record. It highlights the daring that fuels their musical explorations while conclusively demonstrating there isn’t an arrangement of any complexity that their skills can’t fully exploit. The production values are top shelf across the board and does an immaculate job of capturing Project Grand Slam’s varied, almost dense, musical attack.
“Beyond Forever” has a wonderful complexity and moves coherently from passage to passage. The fluency on full display over these eleven songs will impress even the most experienced music devotee – Miller, particularly, weaves intricate rhythmic patterns alongside the drums that any horn player or guitarist would be gratified to play over. “The Rescue” invokes more of a traditional rhythm and blues approach, but never succumbs to cliché. Instead, the performative energy the players bring to the piece transforms even a hint of cliché and gives it a distinctive spin. The aforementioned cover of the gritty Kinks rock classic comes at a great time in the album’s running order and Woodward’s vocal, the only one on this release, provides a key change of pace that sets up the remaining tracks nicely.
The album’s title song steadily percolates from its first beat on with restlessly kinetic energy. The band pulls off this light ethnic variation in their typical musical approach without losing a beat off their momentum. It has a crackling bounce that the band never strains to maintain and a neatly constructed ending. “Gorilla” shifts through a number of musical gears generating a tremendous amount of power and tension along the way while still never hitting listeners in a ponderous, heavy handed way. They take another ambitious turn with “New Folk Song” and excel with a mighty and cinematic sweep driven by busy, tightly wound percussion. “It’s the Beat” will surprise listeners with its step back from melodic concerns and its preference, instead, focuses on giving the players a tasteful chance to demonstrate their instrumental flair. There isn’t a single second of self indulgence however and the track explores a variety of interesting musical textures.
“Lullaby for Julesy” closes The Queen’s Carnival with a decidedly sentimental touch. This is a song of pure love, unfettered by overwrought complexity, and communicated with beautiful simplicity. It’s a fantastic conclusion to an album of wide ranging taste and distinction. The Queen’s Carnival succeeds where few instrumental albums do – it hums and glides with fleet footed melodic prowess that’s every bit the equivalent of any singer-driven recording.
9 out of 10 stars.