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James Chunga, who you may know as the bassist from another Chicago band, So Pretty, has released a solo album under the name Grumble. Tough Times on Oakwood Demos, released this month, is funky, folk punk that warrants your full attention, because the songs are just so damn pleasant to listen to both in the musical quality and witty lyricism.
Ironically, one reason his sound is so unique is that it revitalizes older components of folk punk. A lot of the themes of introspection, battling demons, and finding meaning in an unraveling life are themes that gave folk punk so much traction as a rallying point for the disenfranchised from The Pogues to Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains.
Grumble carves out a space for himself by using the sounds and themes, but reimagined in his own voice and narratives. These narratives of lyricism were meant to be chewed on, and in that realm, Tough Times on Oakwood is hearty food for thought.
The first track “Hell and Back”  starts the narrative for us in a fantastical trip to hell, with demons and insecurities, complete with voices and all. Flexing Throughout the album Chunga elicits colorful imagery and witty word-play, as evidenced in one of my favorite verses from “Smoke and Mirrors” [track 2]:
“Middle men make the most it seems/
with a lot less work and a lot more ease/
Rat gets trapped when he looks for cheese/
but the cat gets treats at the master’s feet”
All good lyrics deserve good sounds, and in this manner, Grumble creates a beautiful symbiosis between the two. He uses only an acoustic guitar, creating a raw and rustic ambiance, and it’s apparent in each track that an incredible amount of thought went into the tones complimenting and mirroring the words. This holistic approach invites complete immersion into the 24 minutes of runtime.
My personal philosophy around music reviews has always been that 90% of the point is to just refer people to the music that’s good and 10% of describing why it’s so impactful. In light of that, with great reluctance I’ll stop gushing and implore you to go give Tough Times on Oakwood Demos a listen. You can listen and purchase this demo from Grumble’s Bandcamp page.
Album artwork by Skully O'Sullivan
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