“I spent almost half of 2016 in and out of different hospitals with what they call ‘idiopathic portal vein thrombosis,’” says longtime area rocker Scott Grower. “It’s a blood clot blocking the primary vein to my liver. Once I made it across that burning bridge, recording an album came into laser focus for me.”
Perhaps this is why the very first song on Grower’s excellent new solo debut When The Smoke Clears, recorded with alternative music veteran Brian Goss, contains such vivid poetry and themes of pushing past your breaking point. Right out of the gate with lead track “Gone Astray,” Grower uses his rich, thick voice to narrate, in the tradition of great outlaw music, a sort of weathered determination over a folky (but not afraid to go big) production. It sounds, frankly, awesome and infectious. If you’ve ever wondered if any new records can pull off that certain something Dire Straits pulled off so many times that made them such a bar room jukebox staple, look no further than Grower’s album.
“It was truly happenstance,” Grower says, of his collaboration with Goss. “I pulled him aside one night at the Fernwood in Palenville and said, ‘Man, I’ve got these songs’ and he was genuinely receptive. We got to work right away and he was nothing short of amazing the entire time. He really put me on his back at times, almost literally climbing up to Overlook Mountain for a photo shoot. As they say, ‘it takes a village’ and he was the mayor. For that I’m forever grateful. He’s a songsmith that I hope other artists will have the pleasure to work with.”
Both Grower and Goss have long contributed amazing music to these parts via still-beloved heavy acts like Slipfist and Dripping Goss, who once rocked local stages many times over. It was awesome for me as a longtime friend of Grower’s to hear this new side of him, as I had always known him as more of an instrumentalist than a vocalist. Even if you didn’t know Scott for years as I have, you can’t hear his record and not notice that there is a sense of someone really pouring himself into the accomplishment of realizing this body of songs.
“Where Are You Now” almost finds Grower sounding a little like James Hetfield here and there in a cool way but mostly it is a restrained piano-laced ballad about missing people. Straight up honky tonk country jaunt “House Of Cards” affirms that Grower can’t worry about what other people think, with some sweet slide guitar and shuffle percussion. Dude did a tremendous job stepping out of his comfort zone, especially on my favorite track “No One’s Song,” which has the sort of angel and devil over your shoulder, fireside Johnny Cash quality, a resigned “Nothingman” Pearl Jam somber air that personalizes songs to certain types of emotionally open music fans and makes them come back. Was Grower nervous in making this record?
“For sure, most artists run to the limelight and I find comfort in candlelight, so it was very difficult to be honest and at the same time vulnerable, but it has been both liberating and therapeutic all at once,” he admits. “I’ve been the guy beside the campfire or jammin’ on the porch my entire life, but when the sessions began, I finally heard my true voice for the first time, and was taken aback by it, honestly.”
There is something empowering about not only facing mortality but also coming into yourself. It is also cool when people who have played more aggressive music in the past loosen up and admit everyone likes Pink Floyd or a little bit of twang sometimes. The title track in particular has a sort of “Wish You Were Here” anthemic quality over a familiar sounding acoustic guitar that probably has her own name for how comfortably Grower’s voice sounds beside her.
“I’m waiting for weakness to make me stronger,” Grower sings earlier on his song “Stronger.” Listening to the record leaves one with the distinct impression that Grower is further along than he might give himself credit for. Hopefully whatever comes next on a personal or professional level for Grower, he can find comfort in the fact that he has managed to achieve a goal, a leap of faith that many people are never able to come near. Sometimes it is hard enough to even open your mouth in life, let alone show your hopes, dreams, demons and pain for anyone in the general public to hear.
Grower takes a lot of inspiration from community, and it seems like some of that bolstered his resolve as well. “Aside from a few years out west in the desert, I’ve called the Hudson Valley my home. The number of amazing artists here is staggering,” Grower reflects. “I consider myself damn lucky to have grown up here and be surrounded with great players, artists, and fantastic family and friends. It all starts there, for sure. Music has always defined me. When I came to realize how frail and fleeting life actually is, I knew the time was now to record this album. My family and friends are constant sources of inspiration throughout. I feel like I’ve truly found my place in music, and it’s found its place in me.”
Check out his website — scottgrower.com.