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Mike Grogan - Make Me Strong

  by Owen Peters

published: 14 / 3 / 2015

Mike Grogan - Make Me Strong
Label: Poacher Records
Format: CD


Impressive and high-quality second album from Portsmouth-based singer-songwriter Mike Grogan

If albums are a reflection of the artist, then Mike Grogan is probably a man to trust. ‘Make Me Strong’, which is being released on Poacher Records is rich in historical content, reflective in its lyrics and complemented by a dazzling array of skilled musicians with a diversity of instruments. It’s a beast of an album. Even the sleeve is built like a brick! I make zero excuses in returning to my theme of lyrics being supplied with an album sleeve. It’s tends to be a clear signal that care has been taken with the packaging, which in turn transmits as care and diligence in the artist’s music. Grogan’s album, which has been recorded and produced by Mark Tucker, ticks all the boxes: blues, country, folk, roots, social history...fight over the genre if you must, as I’ll just be listening through it again as you do so. ‘Black Dog’, as the title suggests, touches on the cruelty, impact and uncertainty of depression: “It’s not about the mind or the person within/The darkness is born from the battle within.” Whilst Grogan’s lyrics deal with the subject in a particularly sensitive manner, it’s the harmonica skills of Phil Henry which control the pitch and emotion of the song. There is none of your flat pitched wailing here. Here we have someone who knows his way around a harmonica. Can anyone talk with authority on the chatturangui? No me neither. In layman’s terms (me), it’s an Indian version of the Western slide guitar. It features throughout ‘The Light of the World’ which describes religions as different colours of the same rainbow. Totally spot on, it drifts and resonates in, out then alongside the choral backing which verges on hypnotic chanting. Love songs can sometimes get lost in the author’s lyrics. They become so personal you can only guess at their meaning. There are no such problems with Grogan’s ‘Shackled in Love.’ Most lines begin with “I”, and are built on a sentence of four/five/six words: “I want to be open. I want to be strong. I need you in health. I want to be shackled in love.” Phil Beer on violin does a fine job allowing the simple heartfelt lyrics to flow. With lovers waltzing, shackled in love, I can imagine it going down well if played live. Maybe the chatturangui question was a tad hard. So what about a dobro? Yes! It is an American brand of resonator guitar. I wonder how many times these instruments have been played on the same album. It’s used to good effect on the reflective ‘Speak to Me’, which cites the impact when communications breakdown. ‘The White Flowing River’ and ‘One Grain of Love’, which celebrates Gandhi's march into the sea, in protest of British rule in India, effortlessly blend (maybe bleed) into each other. Once again Henry on chatturangui conjures up the mood being set by Grogan’s poignant verses on Gandhi's attempt for a peaceful change to colonial rule. Grogan returns to his home town of Portsmouth, paying tribute to the altruist John Pound in a track of the same name. Pound founded the “Ragged Schools”, teaching children of Portsmouth the basics in reading, writing and arithmetic during the early 1800s. The chorus sounds like a call to arms with its infusion of passion. His line “John Pounds gave the poor a voice” sums up with subtly and respect what Pounds brought to the less fortunate children of Portsmouth. I’m sure many will appreciate the opening track ‘You Will be Loved’ and ‘Nelson’s Blood’. Miranda Sykes on backing vocals is a welcome accompaniment on many of the albums tracks. If ‘Make Me Strong’ was a beer it would be a stout, as a meal it would be sirloin steak (rare), as a tree an oak. Play it, trust it, and enjoy. It’ is, as I said, a beast of an album.

Track Listing:-
1 You Will Be Loved
2 Nelson's Blood
3 Black Dog
4 The Light of the World
5 Crystal Tears
6 The Devil's Kite
7 Shackled in Love
8 Will We Dance?
9 Speak to Me
10 Let It Rain
11 John Pounds
12 The White Flowing River
13 One Grain of Love

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Interview (2015)
Mike Grogan - Interview
With the success of Mike Grogan's recent album 'Make Me Strong', Owen Peters discusses his plans to tour and why history is important

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