It’s hard to believe the desperate soul who wrote “Skinny Love” can have this much fun. But if you follow along with any of Justin Vernon’s extracurriculars — his cat-centric Instagram, his workout advocacy videos, or just about anything that’s not Bon Iver — you’ll find a grown-ass dude trying to have a good time, often drinking beers at Bucks games. He can’t make you love him, but he probably doesn’t have to, either.
Aligning more with the fun-loving Jekyl (think more Gayngs), to Bon Iver’s downtrodden Hyde, Grownass Man plays out as both an extension of Megafaun’s 2010 Sounds of the South showcases at Duke, and as peacemaking for the demise of Vernon’s pre-Bon Iver outfit, Deyarmond Edison. Sounds of the South were a series of performances organized by the ex-DeYarmond Edison members of Megafaun, exploring the gritty southern musical traditions captured by Smithsonian folklorist Alan Lomax along his journeys below the Mason-Dixon. The Shouting Matches push those southern sounds even further downstream, toward Petty and even Skynyrd’s classic rock sensibilities. Comprised of Vernon, former Deyarmond Edison-er and Megafaun member Phil Cooke, and Peter Wolf Crier’s Brian Moen, the three extend their infatuation with Blues, Gospel, and classic rock riffs, to produce an earnest, if derivative, homage to the kind of music you might remember blasting out of your father’s radio.
Like he did both for Sounds of the South and with DeYarmond Edison, Vernon’s voice turns to a mostly baritone, gravely wail on Grownass Man. He’s clearly having fun here, singing lead on every track with an almost theatrical swagger. Opener “Avery Hill” is the most straightforward blues-rock song on here, but as the album opens up, slight Bon Iverian nuances drift in and out, mostly from purring organs and more soulful vocals from Vernon (“Gallup, NM”). The lovely “New Theme” is a touching Gospel tune, which strictly sounds like a Sunday church service. “Heaven Knows” is a Muddy blues killer, screeching and moaning with vintage vocals. The fact that it’s Vernon singing is more a curiosity than anything else. No, this is not a Bon Iver album in the slightest.
But, Grownass Man is nothing new or nothing too special. It’s a group of tight, talented musicians doing justice to sounds and styles that they may otherwise avoid. It’s fun, it’s on-point, and, if nothing else, you get to hear Vernon croak “Goddamit, y’all!” over steam engine harmonica and blues sludge. Get out there and enjoy yourself — like Vernon does.
Essential Tracks: “Gallup, NM”, “New Theme”, and “Seven Sisters”