Best I can tell, the ethos of recent contemporary folk music doesn’t present something substantially evolved or mutated from the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. The genre is rarely seen as “groundbreaking”, and singers and songwriters seem less interested in pushing sonic boundaries than in simply crafting great, re-listenable songs. However, it’s because of this never-ending focus on “the song” that folk artists are consistently on the creative uptick. As many a 1990s alternative crossover artist discovered (usually the hard way), there’s little room in folk for studio tricks, bells and whistles, or instrumental masturbation, especially if you lack the lyrical and musical chops to back them up. Outside of sheer physical talent, the only tools you have to work with are your ideas and your execution.
With My Head Is In The Clouds, the sequel to January’s My Legs Are In The Water, Austin-based Grand Child finds near perfection on all fronts. From the start, “I Know” sets the stage for a band playing to all of its strengths, balancing vocal pop harmonies, concretely insightful lyricism and tenderly frenetic folk guitar with pristine studio polish. On “Strawberry Jam”, the band continues to build momentum as the arrangements begin to get noticeably more complex and intense; lead singer Andy Lane, with cutting American logic reminiscent of the Koufax’s “It Had To Do With Love (Or Rather A Lack Thereof)”, softly whispers “I am not your friend/Because all my friends hate you”. Closer “A Song To Die To” finds Grand Child bringing nearly every recognizable element of its overall sound into one consolidated piece, complete with a hyper-rhythmic, driving percussion section, orchestral flourishes, and the hopeful sound of trumpets off in the distance.
There are scores of artists who try to build rock, pop or country music on the foundation of folk, but ambitious genre-shifting and avant-garde leanings are more likely to overpower than elevate sub-par songcraft. What may set Grand Child apart is Andy Lane’s apparent understanding that quality songwriting necessarily takes priority over faint harp strings, off-the-wall percussion, and clean drum fills. Though My Head Is In The Clouds has an abundance of all these things, they’re never more than mere compliments to Lane’s voice and guitar. If there’s any kind of paradigmatic formula for creating attention-grabbing, accessible, and repeatedly listenable Americana, then Grand Child currently have a firm grasp of its most integral parts.