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If you wish to study a "granfalloon" Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.
THE SITUATION of trying to be a professional musician while being fettered with the academic work of a student requires a lot more than just hot air. Keeping a musical group playing together for three years is a feat in itself. Yet the folk group called Granfalloon, made up of four Harvard undergraduates, has continued to perform despite being encumbered by thesis writing, intellectual commitments, and a general lack of recognition. Their music still possesses a quality and musicianship which, in many areas, is as refined as that of other groups who devote their full time to their musical development.
The Harvard Cabaret took time out of its regular scheduling of dramatic performances last weekend to present Granfalloon in concert at Currier House. The group smoothly opened the show with Chicago, one of their better efforts, marked by changing rhythms and the country comfort tone of Chris Hunt's mandolin. As in this case, most of the Falloon's material is original. Only three of the eighteen songs performed during the two sets were borrowed from other professional artists. Their musical range can produce the lyrical intensity of a dramatic poetry reading or the funky folk sound of a group like The Band. Though it's very difficult to find any roots to their music, they remind one of the Incredible String Band.
On Friday night, it took almost half of the first set before the group overcame their initial nervousness and engaged the audience in their music. The Falloon's stage presence between songs is not one of their strong points, hindered by a lot of self-conscious joking and the technical problems of shifting from instrument to instrument. Any unity in a set is broken up by this letdown between songs.
The versality of the group members, especially Chris Hunt (who plays mandolin, bass, electric lead, acoustic, and piano) reveals some of the latent talent of the group. Wayne Lipton's cello is a distinguishing factor in the group's overall sound and is employed with stunning effectiveness to counterpoint the guitar work. Particularly in Hunt's Desert Bones are both instruments combined in a tight-woven harmony with Lipton's cello providing an eerie backdrop for the song's haunting lyrics:
The Half-blind man can't walk on sand to save his life
But he hobbles in the sun and hopes that he will run--
He's sure that he wants to
Desert bones lie all around.
If he'd just turn back a way there's fertile ground.
THE VOCAL WORK of the group is an area that leaves something more desired. Though at times inspired, as in Davis's performance on the Stones' You Can't Always Get that roused the Friday night audience out of its passivity, the singing falters and lacks proper range and development. Bill Connet and Davis harmonize nicely periodically but there's no real strength exhibited in this department.
Perhaps the best songs presented during the show were Hunt's Fly on the Wall and Davis's Grandfather's Gifts. The former is a long piece with an extended instrumental portion in which all four members perform solos, the most memorable being Lipton's cello which musically colors the image of the fly on the wall. The first chorus captures concisely the crippled feelings of a stunned lover:
Late it comes and I'm letting go
Laughing too low
Running the dead down--
Fly on the wall.
Grandfather's Gifts by contrast is a lighter, shorter song about childhood memories. The melody laid down by the guitars tinkles like a child's music box, placing one in the fanciful atmosphere of early youth. The song is affectionately nostalgic but also reveals how we still live in the fairy tales of our youth as adults:
And so I dreamt through the pages all
On my way to where.
Now, perhaps I live through the pages all
On my way to where:
Though the lyrics sung are usually clear and refined, some of the Falloon's songs do deteriorate into obscurity and triteness. Baron's Daughter, the faltering encore performed Friday night, has lines like. "Casting about the locker rooms-Hoping for baby eagles in the doom. All the time you're on fire-knowing what you desire," whose meaning is barely perceptible. The groups new, untitled number also had some ridiculously superfluous lyrics like. "I was kneeling on my knees." Many times, however, the music does hold one's attention in spite of the cryptic phrasing.
Granfalloon also has a hard driving side of their music present in songs like One More Question, Get Down on Your Knees, Keep the Crying From Me, and, as mentioned. You Can't Always Get. Though the group has no drummer, the percussion section made up of Connet's claves and tambourine and Lipton's punctuating bass patterns add the backbone necessary to carry the beat of these songs, building them into some real foot-stamping numbers. Get Down has real potential to become a Top 40 tune should the Falloon move in that direction.
The question is what happens to the group after graduation. In the past the group's practicing and performing was hindered by academics and a lack of promotion. A very promising recording offer has moved the group to take another shot at the big time. Only time and Rolling Stone will tell if this group is a true Karass or just another "granfalloon."
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