Grand Shores is a celebration of musical subtlety, a generous hybrid of old and new styles captured in understated tones, often verging on the ambient and instrumental.
While lulling listeners into a state of serenity, Gabriel Pelli (Onyx Club Boys, The Old Ceremony) and Will Ridenour (Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, Zegota) move nimbly across musical traditions. Blending Americana with West African folk, and with instrumentation ranging from fiddle to kora, Grand Shores fuses their original sound with a contemporary aesthetic that draws widely from folk and indie, jazz and punk.
A collaborative project out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Grand Shores released their first album, Tradewinds, in 2020 on Robust Records. The album was recorded in a single-room, 100 year-old chapel located in rural North Carolina. Such a setting produces a warmth in the recordings that mirrors the feeling of seeing Grand Shores live. A Grand Shores performance stokes the fires of familiarity, inviting listeners to a private experience.
In the case of Tradewinds, the always difficult task of capturing the authenticity of live sound succeeds, not only because you can hear the North Carolina frogs and insects in the background of “Wild Kingdom”—though you can; and not just because “28th of January” features the interplay of two gifted musicians playing one fiddle—though it does. Rather, the record maintains its closeness to the listener by balancing an array of different kinds of intimacies, transitioning seamlessly from, for example, a track like “Jarabi,” that grabs you with its percussive intensity, to “Knew It Couldn’t Last,” a personal ballad about memory and loss. “With a chainsaw and a cigarette you built your house out of wood, on the mountain of crystals where those great pines once stood,” Pelli sings, evoking an image that owes its endearing quality to equal parts candor and precision. In such moments, “those great pines” being sung about seem to merge with the woods encircling the chapel where the music was recorded.
The album maps out a space that begins to feel familiar. One might say that it is this feeling of familiarity, a close-knit regionalism, that is the hallmark of any folk music tradition. But in a collection of songs with an international scope, its instrumentation and repertoire inching towards the global, it is the surprise of closeness that makes Tradewinds a remarkably compelling album.
At its heart, Grand Shores is a guitar and kora duo, a partnership of American and West African string instruments. As Ridenour explains, the intrinsic qualities of this pairing require them to “continually practice a distinct kind of accompaniment,” one based on “listening to each other” so as to give the instruments the space they need. As Tradewinds affirms, Grand Shores excels at carving out a space for their music, a space to move and to improvise, to live generously from moment to moment.
In addition to several originals, the album features covers of Ali Farka Touré and Townes van Zandt, as well as multiple new arrangements of traditionals from around the globe. Throughout this eclectic journey, Grand Shores stays very much rooted to the space that they call home. But they prove, in doing so, that the local enclaves of home contain much more room than we might think.
Like the easterlies evoked by the album’s title, which forever blow from east to west, Grand Shores brings the world a little closer, one note at a time.
- Sean DiLeonardi