After expanding its lineup and diving into the writing process, Full Grown Band, a group of longtime Missoula musicians, is set to release their debut album featuring almost exclusively original songs.
The seven-piece, horn-driven R&B outfit includes veterans of 1970s-era Lost Highway Band Paul Kelley (bass, vocals) and Phil Hamilton (sax), as well as Peter Walther (guitar, vocals), who, with Hamilton, founded the Moonlighters, who were popular in the '90s Missoula music scene. Roger Moquin (drums, vocals), Bob Athearn (keyboards), Deb Demmons (vocals) and Jordan Demander (trumpet) round out the group.
The band describes their new album, recorded in Hamilton and his wife Janet Whaley’s basement between December 2018 and February 2019, as “a rich stew of eight original songs and two cover songs intimately recorded by a group of longtime collaborators.”
A mix of rock, reggae, blues and jazz, the CD will make you dance with vocal harmonies and horn section standouts to back up the sultry, but punchy voice of Demmons.
Full Grown Band has been mostly known for performing covers, but when former band member Rick Waldorf passed away, it inspired Hamilton and others to dive into writing.
“It was tough,” Hamilton said. “When he was gone I started to think, ‘Man, life’s too short.’ ”
The album is dedicated to the memory of Waldorf, who passed away in December 2015.
A few members of the group had already been writing for years, so an album of mostly original songs made sense, Walther said.
“We just decided, you know what, part of what this big change is, we’ve got to stop doing covers, no matter how obscure and cool, and start doing something that no one else has done,” Walther said. “It was time. We’ve all played for years and we’ve all written for years and it was just the natural next step.”
“If we’re going to get out there and express who we are, we might as well be who we are and not our interpretation of who anybody else is,” Hamilton said.
The album opens intentionally with a cover of the King Floyd's 1971 soul/R&B hit “Groove Me,” which eases listeners in with Demmons' vocals delivering a recognizable hit.
“I think Deb is really welcoming,” Walther said. “I think when you hear her right off the bat you feel brought in and I think that’s one of the reasons that first song works pretty well.”
The third track, “Sombody’s Cryin,” written by Walther, introduces the band’s reggae sound and shows the group's versatility early on.
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“I think one of the strong parts of the band is that we can embrace a lot of different grooves and tempos because we’ve played together for so long,” Walther said, in reference to the mishmash of genres the band moves between.
By the sixth track, you’ll be on the dance floor for “Same Same,” as Walther and Demmons trade off vocals in a bouncy back and forth.
Hamilton’s only byline on the album is appropriately called “Twilight Zone” and starts off sounding a bit like the opening of a horror scene, tiptoeing towards a terrifying climax. Then it opens up to let the horns shine.
“We built the solos around the horns to really show them off,” Walther said of the song. “There’s a sense of dread and the ending where everything falls apart of course is very intentional.”
Walther’s “Work” brings back the reggae beat for a call to action with the lyrics “we got work to do.” The song touches on issues like the climate change, drug overdose and war.
“There’s a real connection between the blues, and bluegrass and reggae music because it’s all music of poor people that’s roots music, and a lot of the concerns are the same in spite of the musical differences,” Walther said. “I just want people to think about these problems in a community way.”
The final track, “Train” ends the album as it should, by bringing all sounds of the seven-part band back together before fading away.
Despite the excitement around releasing their original music, the band says they’ll still play covers at their shows.
The group will release the album on Nov. 30 with a free show at the Union Club Bar & Grille in downtown Missoula. Music starts at 9:15 p.m. and CDs will be available for purchase. Walther said they’re not planning on playing the album front to back, but instead will sprinkle them between covers throughout the night.
Hamilton said that while their demographic is probably a little older in general, the Union is the perfect place to debut the album because the crowd is usually a healthy mix of ages.
“That’s one thing I really like about the Union Club,” he said. “Every year there’s a whole new batch of younger people. It’s a multigenerational thing.”
And if you’re wondering whether the band is slowing down at all, don’t. They’ve got plans for a second album.
“Oh, yeah, we’ve already got some songs in the works,” Hamilton said.