Album Review: Greenleaf - "Trails And Passes"

When does a "side project" stop being a side and start being a primary project. Generally, a side project is something you do part time, as an escape or a way to shake things up so you can continue pursuing your main objective. But when your part time job starts to become more important than your full time job then maybe it's time to switch.

Greenleaf is a Swedish band that started as a side project in 2000. That's right, a 14 year side project! They've gone through a number of personnel changes over the last 14 years and currently they feature most of the band Dozer plus a new frontman in the form of the relatively unknown Arvid Jonsson. Jonsson replaces previous vocalist Oskar Cedarmalm for this album.

The rest of Greenleaf includes Dozer drummer Sebastian Olsson, along with founding members guitarist Tommi Holappa and bassist Bengt B├Ącke, also of Dozer.

To say the album has a 70's rock feel to it would be an understatement. Some may want to classify the band as "stoner rock" due to their vintage sound. There may be a bit of psychedelia included in the form of an occasional flanger or tremolo in the guitar sound but what we're really dealing with is some good, old fashioned hard rock.

Think of Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and you'll begin to get a feel for what Greenleaf is doing on "Trails And Passes".

Right off the bat I noticed the record was, let's call it, under-produced. That is to say, it lacks that super-compressed sound found in most modern recordings. The drums especially have a very natural sound to them which I love.

Having spent some time in a recording studio I've seen how the setup for recording goes. Generally speaking, the engineer spends hours miking the drums and setting the sound for each. He carefully tweaks and equalizes the kick, followed by the snare, toms, hi-hat and, finally, the whole kit until he creates an artificial drum sound that is difficult to reproduce in a live setting.

Or worse, he uses "triggers" that cause any impact on the drum to produce a computer generated sound that is equal in volume whether the impact is hard or soft. My point is this... by over-engineering the drums like that, you take away the drummers ability to play subtly and you're left with a drum sound that sounds, well, over-produced.

That is not the case on this record.

The folks that mixed this album did a fantastic job of capturing the actual sound of the band without tweaking and re-tweaking every note. It has a very real feel to it and, for this reviewer, it's a nice change of pace.

Overall, "Trails And Passes" is a hard rock record with a moody feel to it. That is, the songs are mid-tempo rock with a classic guitar sound and driving beats that keep your head bobbing but not banging. And they're not for dancing

There is some groove to be found on "Trails And Passes", though. The opening track, "Our Mother Ash", for example. And for a really good time, check out "The Drum", a 2:50 rock and roll break down, heavy on the drums (go figure), where the guitar follows the vocal melody to very good effect. It's one of my favorites but I'm a sucker for break downs.

As far as the new singer goes, he holds it all together with a pretty unique singing style. Arvid Jonnson's vocals are clean and melodious with just a hint of sadness in them. I found myself drawing comparisons to Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and, to a lesser degree, a slightly higher pitched Jim Morrison.

The material on "Trails And Passes" is not groundbreaking but then Greenleaf does not seem to need to reinvent the wheel. The songs are extremely palatable and take us to a simpler time when rock could just be rock without any artificial nonsense. So, if you're in the mood for a modern take on a classic sound then Greenleaf should be right up your alley.

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