Review Summary: Great traditional acoustic/folk album from the Bad Religion frontman.
For any punk fan, the name Greg Graffin will be pretty much ingrained into their memory as one of the greats of the genre. For nigh on thirty years Graffin has been the front man for Bad Religion. However as his PHDs and Master’s degree show, he is not your conventional punk front man. This is further explored with his second solo album “Cold As The Clay”. The album is a combination of acoustic and traditional folk songs performed by Graffin accompanied by a small backing band featuring guest members. This is different from his 1997 release “American Lesion” where he recorded the entire album himself. The album was produced by fellow Bad Religion member Brett Gurewitz.
Opener "Don't Be Afraid To Run" immediately introduces itself with a memorable harmonica line played by Graffin and is backed by an acoustic guitar. The lyrics deal with the corruption of a once idyllic town and how Graffin is teling his ‘Darling’ not to be afraid of leaving to escape the changes. Graffin’s vocal performance is very well done and he has a solid singing voice which has been honed through many years of touring and performing.
"Omie Wise" is worthy of mention as the whole song consists of Graffin with an acoustic guitar and no other backing. The guitar is some basic finger picking and chords, which means that the main focus is given to the vocals which again are well done whilst telling the story of a young girl’s murder in the old country. Other notable tracks include “The Highway of Denial” and “California Cotton Fields”. The former is an upbeat song featuring a banjo and lyrics about growing up on a family cotton field and the latter being a more downcast song featuring a mandolin which gives the track an eastern feeling.
Whilst all of the songs on the album are of the same folk/acoustic stylings, they are all given enough nuances which make them individually different and this helps to keep the album flowing. There are also occasional female backing vocals by Jolie Holland which again brings some variation to the album.As the album is made up of older folk songs the lyrics cover many subjects including religion, love, hard working traditions and values.
The production of the album is well handled by Gurewitz. A vast array of instruments are used over the course of the album and the production ensures that the instruments are clear and crisp whilst also maintaning a "live" feel. Graffin’s vocals are definitely the focus of this album as they are placed more towards the front of the mix.
The production also helps to bring a feeling of a tavern performance feeling and you can tell that all the musicians involved enjoying placing this type of music and this in turn gives the songs warmth and conveys this to the listener.
Overall, Cold As The Clay is a complete departure from his Bad Religion performances but gives an insight into music that influenced him as a child and more than likely contributed to BR’s catalogue even if not entirely noticeably.
This is a perfect album if you want something laid back to relax or work to. It may not appeal to Graffin’s more traditional punk fans but I definitely recommend it to fans of Bad Religion’s acoustic work.
-Don’t Be Afraid To Run
-California Cotton Fields
-The Highway Of Denial