July 27, 2006


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Greg Graffin, Cold as the Clay
ANTI, 2006

Cold as the Clay, the first solo outing from Bad Religion vocalist Greg Graffin (PhD) proves less a musical departure from the punk-rock veteran’s usual repertoire than you’d think.

I’ve long contended punk is essentially modern day folk-rock music, just played louder and considerably faster. The social commentary and politically conscious lyrics of early folkies Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn paved the way for latter-day punkers Joe Strummer, Ian McKaye and Graffin.

But enough of the musical history lesson for one day. Point is punk and folk ain’t all that different kiddies, and Cold as the Clay plays basically like a stripped down, acoustic version of any given Bad Religion record. Think Bruce Springsteen’s recent Pete Seeger tribute We Shall Overcome and you’ve got the idea. “Little Sadie” features an old-timey, plucked rhythm; the gospel-inflected, “Rebel’s Goodbye” finds Graffin playing some subtle piano, and the title track would fit nicely on the last B.R. album, The Empire Strikes First.

The most noticeable thing about Greg Graffin (he’s joined by members of the Weakerthans) going unplugged is it showcases just how good a singer he actually is, a fact often lost in the chaotic urgency of Bad Religion’s power-punk anthems. Graffin’s confident tenor remains strong and impassioned throughout the record, particularly on more timely tracks like “One More Hill,” which hints at troubled times and says “There’s always a hill left to climb.” “Omie Wise,” meanwhile, offers a stark change of pace as Graffin takes on the creepy guise of a disarming murderer who claims the life of a naïve Mid-Western girl. So much for old-fashioned apple-pie Americana, I guess.

Like Springsteen’s album, Cold as the Clay feels more like an homage to Graffin’s folk-rock roots than anything especially original (a claim made more evident by the fact that a handful of the songs are re-worked folk classics). Still, there’s something very sincere and heartfelt about this laid-back collection of songs. Like the best punk-rock musicians, Graffin understands an artist cannot hope to move forward without first knowing where he’s been. B
— Adam Marletta

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