Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival
Robert Miller and his cohorts in the post-fusion outfit Project Grand Slam have turned countless heads since their debut and are set to turn any remaining heads around with their four full length studio effort, The Queen’s Carnival. The eleven song collection has a nearly exclusively instrumental focus, but the notable exception, a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, continues an invigorating tradition over the band’s recording history. Their wont for refurbishing classic rock songs into fully-delineated, imaginative platters of fusion ingenuity separates them from the rest of a pack that either believes themselves above such material or else lacks Project Grand Slam’s creative vision. The production has the relatively large chore of capturing the band’s nuanced sound, but the individuals manning the boards did a fine job of finding the band’s live sound in an unnatural environment and preserving it on the recording.
“Beyond Forever” sets listeners off in blistering fashion. Project Grand Slam certainly understands the value of manipulating light and darker dynamics in songwriting and explores the potential inherent with such an approach on the opening track. The guitar work is often quite incendiary, but it never spirals off into an nonsensical avalanche of notes and always retains even a threadbare connection to discernible melodies. None of the music on The Queen’s Carnival has an arbitrary vibe – music for the sake of sound alone. Instead, even the briefest passages in songs like this make sense in the larger musical sense. The band’s aforementioned Kinks cover is another excellent example of that. Much of what made that classic material so successful and gave it the chance to leave such an impact on young, impressionable minds is the uncluttered directness of the arrangement. Project Grand Slam certainly revamps the song, but it really remains just as visceral and stripped bare as ever – Miller and his collaborators, including guest vocalist Lucy Woodward, merely reorient the song’s sonic focus.
The title song is a wonderfully elastic move from the band that shows them comfortably dispatching yet another musical style. The virtuosic elements driving this band aren’t belabored in their songwriting or playing, but it’s impossible to not nod to them, at least, during this review. Few musicians, certainly those working under the pop music banner, can claim such command over their respective instrument that shifting between radically different styles is a relatively simple task. Songs like “Gorilla” and “New Folk Song” demonstrate that equally well. The former is, arguably, the most sustained effort in a rock vein that you’ll find on The Queen’s Carnival, but Project Grand Slam rarely goes for the heavy, dramatic blow despite the song title. The latter is a much more constructed, even stagy, song than what listeners might come to expect from the band, but its theatricality represents a compelling shift in the musical mood that comes at a perfect time.
The Queen’s Carnival ends with “Lullaby for Julesy”, a relaxed and deliberately paced finale that delivers exactly what the title promises. Instead of sounding trite, however, it’s a fascinating and surprisingly appropriate ending to an album that blazes with passion much of the time. The same fervor is here, just much more understated, but present nonetheless. The Queen’s Carnival is one of the year’s most impassioned releases from any genre.
9 out of 10 stars.
William Elgin III