Listen Again: Cathy Grier + The Troublemakers’ ‘I’m All Burn’

Image courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services    

The resurrected ‘Listen Again’ series takes a second look at previously released platters.

For those music lovers who missed the first (or even second or third incarnation) of “Listen Again,” “Listen Again” is a review series in which we revisit releases that, for whatever reason, never received the attention or acclaim they might have deserved when they first hit the record bins. Whether it was because the album was ahead of its time, strayed from the artist’s expected style, was misunderstood, or just not properly promoted, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to “listen again.” This time we revisit I’m All Burn by Cathy Grier + The Troublemakers.  

Cathy Grier

Performer Cathy Grier/ Photo by Bruce Rose/Image courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services

Cathy Grier is an American singer-songwriter and blues musician based out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She began her career in 1978 and has worked for four decades as a professional musician. Her rockin’ resume features 13 previous releases.

She has opened for such other artists as Joan Armatrading, The Band, Dave Mason, and Laura Nyro and sang with a fourteen-piece band in the Paris Opera. She won an MTV Basement Tape award in 1986. According to her official website, she and her six-piece band The Troublemakers are off to Memphis, Tennessee for the International Blues Challenge next month.

Signature Sound

Cathy Grier’s signature sound is a blend of classic and modern blues with a touch of funk and soul. According to her official website, she “plays a fundamental female blues style.” Her inspirations and influences include the likes of John Lee Hooker, Alberta Hunter, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, and Geeshie Wiley. 

I’m All Burn

I’m All Burn is Grier’s most recent release. It’s a 16-track disc that dropped in July of 2020. It’s also her fourteenth album.  

On this CD Grier leads the way on vocals, electric guitar, cigar box guitar, and sitar. She is backed by her band, The Troublemakers, and an assortment of other artists. The Troublemakers include Tony Menzer (bass), Jamey Clark (drums), Jim Ohlschmidt (guitar and backing vocals), Larry Byrne (organ and keyboards), and Johnny Orlock (harmonica).

Grier once said: “Pretty much anyone who plays with me is a Troublemaker, but the people on this record are some of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with.” Honorary Troublemakers include these additional entertainers: Billy Flynn (guitar and harmonica), Greg Koch (guitar), Matt Liban (drums), Greg Roteik (bass), Jimmy Voegeli (keyboards), Andrew Spadafora (saxophone), Joe Niemann (trumpet), and Mike Lizzo (trombone), pat mAcdonald (harmonica and backing vocals), Pauli Ryan (congas and percussion), Howard Levy, and Steven Cohen (harmonica), and Deirdre Fellner, and Liv Mueller (backing vocals). Unless otherwise noted, all the songs are originals by Grier. 

Track by Track

The first track is the titular “I’m All Burn.” This feministic audio offering on gender equality, imagery, and pay tied with Wee Willie Walker’s “Real Good Lie” for the 2021 Coolest Blues Song from Big City Blues Magazine. Musically, it has a funky, soulful feel to it. She discussed the song’s origins online:

“I wrote the title track to my album I’m All Burn, inspired by a piece of artwork by artist b. Basch called “I’m All Burn.” In the piece, actual sections of 1940’s newspaper comic strips were set in a montage, while acrylic white and black circles were painted in lines throughout. In [one] frame that gave the title of the piece, a woman is sitting on a beach blanket with a sexy bikini pulling down her strap, and the caption reads: ‘I’m all burnt’ – but artist b.basch cut off the [letter] ‘t’.”

She added: “My reaction to the artwork was visceral.  And the [phrase] ‘I’m All Burn’, was personal to me because, the reality is that when many doors open for women like myself, they often get closed pretty quickly. Leaving us feeling well, quite burned.”

She concluded: “But I made a twist on the lyric too, giving it a double meaning I’m all burn, as in I’m fired up. I’m going to keep on holding my ground to get noticed. The melody and composition came to me as a Motown feel with simple rhythm and blues structure and a strong melodic hook. The song was written in collaboration with Matt Spatol and Michael Mckinnon…” 

The second selection, “Get Me Away”, is highlighted by Grier’s earnest, textured vocals. The background vocals on this almost dark ditty seem to work well as a foil.

It is followed by the upbeat “Down On My Knees.” Complete with a Grier guitar solo, it is a nice number about fate and how it brought love into her life. You can hear her happiness in her vocals.

The Next number is the sultry “Backroad Blues.” It features emotive vocals and sexy, sultry lyrics to boot. Her overall performance here is nigh iconic in terms of blues songstresses. (Don’t be late, dude, because your rockin’ review is free at “half-past two.”)

“Cool Trick” has an almost 1970s sound to it that is responsible in part for the retro feel to the production. Grier even includes another guitar solo here.

The ballad “Easy Come Easy Go” includes a noteworthy organ intro and some soft guitar work too. Grier gives it her all with her vocals. It’s an early fave of the critics.

“Key To My Survival” shuffles and boogies almost as much as deep-cut ZZ Top. Seriously, you can hear it. This one was co-composed with Julia McConahay and Troy Therrien. (She works well with others, mom and dad.) 

“Good Thing” is simply groovy. The clavinet and harmonica solidify the song. Lyrically, this funky song is humorously sarcastic and maybe yet another reason this one was an early fan fave.  

“Happiness Blues” contains yet another Grier guitar solo that works well in this slow blues bit. Her emotional performance seal the deal on a not entirely unexpected yet standout cut.

“Roots Run Deep” somehow sounds like an evening offering. Koch’s guitar solo is sweet and flowing. It was co-written with Josh Harty and Feathered Mason.    

“Keep You Out” is another funky, soulful song that ekes out its own audio identity despite perhaps being overshadowed by other tracks due in part to its placement on the album.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a welcome inclusion. Yes, it is indeed a cover of the Bobbie Gentry classic but cover cuts always provide a sense of familiarity on albums of unknown, original work. They’re also enjoyable because the listener already knows the words and can sing along. More importantly, in this case, Grier adds her own blues stomp touch to the tune that can make it refreshing to those in the audience who may have heard the original one too many times.

“What Fools Do” is another example of what Grier can do as a solo singer-songwriter. She throws in a guitar solo to remind you she can play too!

“Protecting My Heart” is another groovin’ blues piece. Does this upbeat tune have a tint of jazz in there as well? It sure seems like it. Grier even injects some scat into the mix.

“Question Of Desire” follows here. This is yet another fave of both fans and critics. You can almost feel her singing and swaying in this one.

The closing cut is titled “Cathy’s Bike Song.” It features some earthy slide guitar as Grier acquaints the audience with the cigar box guitar. You can truly feel the fun she is having here on this short but sweet serving.

Listen Again

With a running time of well over an hour, this is actually an effective introduction to what Grier and the band can do as they tunefully travel through multiple musical styles and moods. Grier’s vocals signify her sincerity as the lyrics reveal her inspirations and songwriting abilities. The horn section pumps up the overall rhythm too. So, if you have not yet heard Cathy Grier + The Troublemakers’ I’m All Burn, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it…listen again.