On January 11, 2019, guitarist Phil Dürr returned to the great Mothership up in the sky. Between his international familial bonds and his membership in such hard-touring bands as Big Chief and Five Horse Johnson, he was mourned by friends, fans, and family literally around the world. His loss was most keenly felt in Detroit, Michigan, his hometown since moving to the area from Mexico as a child, and where he was in the middle of recording the latest Giant Brain album.
After the pain and tears and toasts and reflection, bandmates Al Sutton, Andy Sutton and Eric Hoegemeyer endeavored to finish what they had started. Coming out four years after Phillip’s passing, Grade A Gray Day is Giant Brain’s last musical will and testament, serving as both a tribute to their departed bandmate and the final chapter in a collaboration that reaches back to the 1990s, when the band members laid the groundwork for the Detroit rock renaissance of the following century.
Long fixtures of the local scene, Giant Brain coalesced between sessions at Rustbelt Studios, Al Sutton’s recording facility in Royal Oak which has hosted regional and national rock royalty. One of the best guitarists in town, no small feat given the terrain, Dürr laid down 6-string ideas that rolled as much as rocked while the Sutton brothers supplied taut rhythmic support and technical expertise. Their mix of Krautrock grooves, Detroit attitude and ambient textures was first heard on 2007’s Plume. Producer and programmer Eric Hoegemeyer would join the band for 2009’s Thorn of Thrones, with both albums being released on Small Stone Records.
From its packaging to the songs therein, Grade A Gray Day is a family affair. Sue Lott and Scott Hamilton, who played with Dürr in fellow Small Stoners Luder, guest on different songs, Detroit music luminaries Kenny Tudrick, Billy Reedy, James Simonson, Bob Ebeling and Darrel Eubank sit in on others. UK transplant and Keeping The Blues Alive recording artist Joanne Shaw Taylor lays down searing guitar leads on two tracks and the album artwork was provided by underground art legend Mark Dancey, whose work has graced album covers by Soundgarden and who played guitar alongside Dürr in Big Chief.
Despite being a studio entity, Giant Brain have always sounded like a band. There’s no denying, however, much of their unique musical voice was centered around Phil Dürr’s guitar playing, his ability to change gears from gritty to dreamy in the course of a single verse, his love of blues rock gravity and post-punk atmospherics, always thinking in the back of his mind, “What would Eddie Hazel play here?” At times sad and at other points a celebration, Dürr’s presence pulses and reverberates throughout Grade A Gray Day, whether in his guitar interplay with Joanne Shaw Taylor on the opener “Munich,” or the plangent chords hovering underneath Sue Lott’s vocals on “Between Trains,” the album’s final track and a moving farewell.
• Benjamin H. Smith
Phil Durr: guitars, bass
Andy Sutton: bass, vocals
Eric Hoegemeyer: drums, keys, programming, synths
Al Sutton: percussion, programming, keysAdditional musicians:
Joanne Shaw Taylor: guitars on tracks 1 and 4.
Billy Reedy: guitar on tracks 2 and 5.
Jim Simonson: bass on track 2.
Bob Ebeling: wine glasses on track 3, drums on track 5.
Darrel Eubank: vocals on track 3.
Scott Hamilton: guitar on track 5.
Sue Lott: vocals on track 6.
Ken Tudrick: piano on track 6.All songs written and produced by Giant Brain.
Recorded at Rustbelt Studio, Royal Oak, MI.
Engineered and mixed by Al Sutton and Eric Hoegemeyer.
Mastered by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio Labs, Ann Arbor, MI.
Artwork by Mark Dancey.
“Between Trains” lyrics by Sue Lott.
Joanne Shaw Taylor appears courtesy of KTBA Records.
In Memoriam: Phil Durr, Billy Rivkin
For all our loved ones waiting for us.
Maximum volume only
- Munich – (08:37)
- Terminator: (Where an astronaut dies in space) – (08:29)
- The Variac: (His consciousness reawakens) – (03:40)
- Fore: (Rage at the cruelty of forced transhumanism) – (06:51)
- Systems Failure: (Uprising, destruction, and the escape) – (06:22)
- Between Trains – (07:19)