Sour Grapes,
Divine Grind
(self-produced, 2003)

Sour Grapes is Larry Ruhl on guitar, vocals and harmonica, Ellen Iovino on congas and vocals, and Matthew Russel on bass. In addition, Larry and Ellen augment the percussion with their tap shoe-clad feet, an element that must elevate their live shows in a way that doesn't properly translate to CD.

Divine Grind is a live recording of 11 songs, all penned by Larry Ruhl. The recording is undoubtedly a decent demo for a band looking to catch the ear of club owners. I'm sure that die-hard fans of the band will want to own it as well. But the substandard recording quality and the band's lack of experience -- at playing not solely for the live audience, but for the person who will hear this music on his or her stereo -- make this disc a long way short of stellar.

The recording is particularly weak in its presentation of Ruhl's and Iovino's overlapping vocals. The impression I'm left with is that a mixing board set up was locked in for the entire Sour Grapes gig. It may be an ideal mix for the Rain Desert club's acoustics but it's definitely not good for this recording. The guitar is too far forward, the bass is lost, there's no differentiation between lead and backing vocals, the harmonica is too thin. And while Ellen Iovino's vocal growl may add emotional punch live she'd be well advised to use the technique more sparingly when recording.

There are a few fairly strong songs on Divine Grind. "We'll Try Everything," "Try Believin'" and "Miss Your Kisses" (with its Mary Travers meets Luka Bloom style) stand out for me. But even the best pieces are fighting a losing battle with the production elements. "Try Believin'" is a lovely song that needs much closer attention paid to the texture of the vocals. Here it sounds like the guy at the mixing board had most of his attention on his beer. And the inclusion of "Aimless Meander" on which there seems to be a stray microphone over by the bar, picking up drink orders, while Iovino misses a fair number of notes, is a serious mistake. In fact the last three songs on Divine Grind ought to have been discarded or at least re-recorded.

It sounds to me as though Sour Grapes are an entertaining live act. But if they're going to commit their material to CD then hiring an experienced producer is essential. Until they take that step, see them live, but pass on Divine Grind.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 22 May 2004

[ visit the artist's website ]