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Southern Rock with a Distinctive Edge: Grifters & Shills’ “Pretty Little Secrets”

In our contemporary musical landscape, it is often challenging to capture a listener’s attention for fifteen tracks on an album, but that is exactly what Grifters & Shills accomplish on their new album “Pretty Little Secrets.” The duo, consisting of John and Rebecca Stoll, showcase a remarkable range of talent and versatility. From Southern blues-inflected numbers such as “Sweeter with Wine” and “Sarge” to contemplative and stripped back records such as “Disappear” and “Last Leaf Has Fallen,” the album offers an eclectic and engaging experience for listeners. However, there are several particular components on the fifteen-track album that distinguish it as a truly worthwhile listen. Notably, the diverse instrumentation on the album is performed entirely by the Houston-based duo and couple. Rebecca Stoll takes the role of lead vocalist (and frequently plays the bass) while John provides much of the guitar handiwork. The duo also share roles performing drums, harmonica, vocal harmonies—and even cigar box guitar and kazoo. The medley of instruments throughout the album support each other quite effectively and result in a strong, cohesive sound. 

Perhaps the strong synchronicity of the album is a result of the duo’s wealth of experience: the two originally met in a rock/blues jam band in 2008; or perhaps the chemistry comes from their personal connections to each other—as partners outside of the band. Regardless, the two effectively complement each other’s performances throughout the album. Another component of the album I particularly enjoyed was the contrast between the two’s contributions: while John often underscores the songs with heavy southern blues guitar riffs (such as in “2-55” and “Highway Ride” ) and steady, driving guitar rhythms (such as “Taxidermy Town” and “Keepin’ Score”), Rebecca’s vocals often provide an organic, traditional country impression. More specifically, Rebecca’s style undoubtedly fuses elements of the High Lonesome Sound with Southern soul, particularly on “Disappear” and “When the Deed is Done.” The resulting amalgamation of vocal styles ultimately provides a charming and distinctive Southern flavor to the album. 

In general, the duo understands pacing both on a granular level and across the entire album. The album’s first track “Running Out” establishes a good sense of what’s to come with a dark, piercing guitar melody from the onset, and an eerie, left-field vocal performance. What follows across the album is a propulsive fusion of Southern rock, blues, and bluegrass. The album feels idiosyncratic, especially when you consider Rebecca’s powerful vocals on their own, yet the band still maintains enough proximity to established rock motifs to maintain a strong sense of energy across all fifteen tracks. If you are looking for danceable, get-up records, you might turn to “Never Again (Again)” or later on the album, “Left Right Left”—both offer good energy and pacing. And if you are looking for cheeky, irreverent, soulful records, you’re going to want to hear “Sweeter with Wine” and “Highway Ride.” Lastly, my personal favorites “Disappear” and “Last Leaf Has Fallen” offer a more reflective and poignant side to the duo. 

Overall, the album is a fantastic assemblage of the band’s recent work together: there are exhilarating instances as well as introspective moments. The band understands balance very well, and their years of playing together is fully evident in their masterful chemistry across the record. I will be looking forward to any new works from the duo in the future, as should you.

Written by Brennan White

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