Solid Sender - 2017
Over four previous records, Boerner has delivered foot-stomping (literally, if you see him live) acoustic music that hearkens back to the blues, folk and rock he loves, with his own original twist. His fourth, 2011’s Prophetstown, was a lot like his third, which was a lot like his second, etc. Greg’s such a fixture around here that I fully expected I’d keep buying similar-sounding records from him and palling around at Kiss the Sky, our favorite record store, for the next several decades.
I love it when people surprise me, and Greg threw two surprises at me recently. The first is that he’s moving to Nashville in January – he’s found love, and he’s going after it with all he has. The second is his fifth record, Solid Sender, which rips up his formula and finds new ground to stand on. It’s still a loving tribute to the roots music he holds dear, but this time he’s opened the production wide, welcoming drums and electric piano and upright bass and lots of studio magic, and strapping on an electric guitar for most of the running time. Even with all this, Solid Sender is still a Greg Boerner record, only more so.
This new effort was produced with Patrick Moynihan at his local studio, Waveform, and you can hear Moynihan’s influence right away. That’s him on the Fender Rhodes on the opening title track, with Boerner laying down a slinky electric vibe. “Price You Pay” is a blues song at its core, but the production is marvelous – Boerner plays an electric with heavy tremolo over Ed Breckenfeld’s drums and Moynihan’s bass and electric piano, while he duets with Mary Lou O’Brien, one of the finest singers in the Aurora area. Their voices intertwine beautifully on this traditional, yet thoroughly enjoyable tune.
Already he’s flipped his own script, which is why “Faith,” a classic-Coke Boerner solo acoustic tune, is a welcome addition early in the record. The rest of Solid Sender revels in its own diversity, and in the new possibilities of its full-band studio setting. I’m a fan of “Restless Sleep,” a minor-key shuffle on which Boerner lists off all the things that keep him up at night, in a slightly unsettling doubled vocal. The interplay between his guitar and Moynihan’s piano light up the instrumental passages on this record, and it’s clear that great thought went into how to catch the listener’s ear every few seconds.
O’Brien shines on the country-swing ballad “Don’t Do This to Me,” and on the whimsical cover of “Two to Tango.” But that’s not the cover that will make you take notice. Boerner’s spare, haunting rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Sick and Die” might be the best thing here. He sticks to minimal acoustic and voice for the first part of the tune, so when an army of mouth percussion and O’Brien’s soulful vocals come in, it’s a full-on wide-grin moment.
Another comes with the next track, a genuine surprise. “Allman Joy” is an instrumental, and as the title suggests, it is a tribute to the twin-guitar jams of the Allman Brothers Band. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard from Boerner, and it makes me smile. As does the final track, a love song called “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” that was written for a family wedding, but took on new significance as Boerner reconnected with the woman he’s about to move across the country for. It’s a sweet, emotional way to close out a record that is all about taking chances, changing things up, rolling the dice and seeing where they land.
Solid Sender feels like a new chapter, both in Greg’s music and his life. As much as I would have enjoyed running into Greg and seeing him play locally for the next however many years, I’m thrilled that he’s going after whatever lies ahead for him. And I’m thrilled that he made my favorite of his records before he did, and I got to tell him to his face how much I liked it. Solid Sender is the work of a confident man willing to take a risk and hope it pays off. I’ve no doubt that it will, as much as the risks he took on this record have paid off.
- Andre Salles, writer/reviewer/columnist for www.tm3am.com
On his 5th album, Greg Boerner continues his slow-but-steady proof of talent ready to eclipse “local hero” status. Solid Sender has ample depth and an undercurrent to pull you in. Songs including the moody blues of “Restless Sleep” and trainshuffling “All the Tea in China” find the songwriter casting about the corners of his soul with a flickering torch, confronting any shadows found there and allowing fresh light into the scene.
Compared to 2011’s Prophetstown and prior work, Boerner’s sonic palette has evolved into something that is still sparse and focused, but also richer. There’s a whiff of the intimate, roots-pop Wildflowers Tom Petty-vibe coupled with Storytellers-era Clapton with Chet Atkins fingerpicking. The sly blues of “Price You Pay” and country duet “Don’t Do This to Me” are elevated by the alternately saucy and sublime sound of Mary Lou O’Brien’s vocal accompaniment.
The appropriately ebullient “Allman Joy” gets electric with a tribute in the vein of the Brothers’ “Jessica.” “Sick and Die” is a soulful Gospel-blues version of the Muddy Waters gem. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is a sweet study of unexpected love and overflowing gratitude, tailor-made for those who find themselves too tongue-tied to express themselves to the objects of their affection.
It’s easy. Just learn to play guitar and sing as well as Greg Boerner before Mr. or Ms. Right finds someone else.
– Jeff Elbel, freelance writer with Chicago Sun-Times and Illinois Entertainer