Due to many reasons, I have been somewhat late to the underground NZ scene but over the last few years have been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people, see some amazing performances, and hear some wonderful music. All of these come together in one man, Adam McGrath, leader of The Eastern. I was fortunate enough to see them at Auckland Folk Festival in 2021, and catch one of Adam’s solo shows at the same event, but I also sat with them and had a conversation which left me feeling that Adam is one of the most interesting people I have ever come across. With Adam what you see is what you get, a straight talking honest person who loves his community and will give you the shirt off his back if that will help, and every year plays hundreds of gigs either solo or with his band. Before covid struck he got into the studio long enough to record this album, then let it stay there as he stayed stuck at home before he got The Eastern up and running again. He knew he would get to it one day, but one day became today as one of his friends became really ill, and needed expensive drugs not covered by the system, so this album has been put out to raise valuable funds, with little in the way of publicity (there is no large machine behind Adam). There will be no Spotify (or the like) streaming of the album, as Adam says, “It’s gonna be old fashioned. If anyone wants it then it’s for sale, on Vinyl, CD and Download.”
I didn’t know any of that before I heard it, and Adam was amazed I even knew about its existence (it’s all Steve Bone’s fault, as usual), as he had been meaning to send me a copy, but Christmas and touring was getting in the way, but he then sent me through the press release, and it was only after reading it that I knew why it was out. However, in many ways, it feels fitting as this is a very special album indeed, and that it has been made available for a special reason feels right. Produced by Lindon Puffin, Adam has brought in some fine friends to assist, and while he provides vocals, guitar, harmonica, and glockenspiel he has been joined by Jono Hopley (double bass, bodhran), Brendan Gregg (mandolin, bodhran, guitars, backing vocals), Frankie Daly (piano, Hammond, accordion, synth, backing vocals), Adam Hattaway (guitar), Jol Mulholland (drums), Reb Fountain (backing vocals), and Matthew David (pedal steel), but to me this is all about the voice, singing his stories.
It is impossible to describe the sheer gravitas of this album, the empathy and passion which comes through. Adam is putting his soul out there for everyone to see, laying himself bare, opening himself up and making himself totally vulnerable. This is not something to be played in the background while doing something else, or when there is noise around, but needs to be really listened to as this transports those who really hear to a different time and place. There is no rush to an ending, no studio trickery, just musicians allowing Adam the space ad time to do what is needed and providing subtle enhancements when they are needed.
To tie in with the last even MNZ newsletter I was asked to produce my Top 10’s at the beginning of December, at which time this had not been released. If it had been, there is no doubt in my mind that this would have been my #1 as this is a very special release indeed. Roots music just does not get any better than this, with this storyteller living the life of the travelling troubadour, a role he was born to play. Don’t believe me? Go to https://adammcgrath.net/ and see what I mean. Your ears will thank you forever.
10/10 Kev Rowland