Letting It Rip

By Paul Rigg

When Guitars Exchange interviewed Donna Grantis last year she sent our readers two previews of tracks she was working on at the time: Diamonds & Dynamite and Elsa; from that we knew something special was on its way, and now it is here!     

Diamonds & Dynamite
(eOne; 21 March 2019) is a glorious fusion of funk, soul, jazz and blues that has Miles Davis and Prince written all over it, but is also uniquely Donna Grantis.

The Toronto native, who wrote the title track for PlectrumElectrum, Prince’s 2014 album with the group 3rdEyeGirl, sounds like she has soaked herself in the riches of the aforementioned musical traditions but then has let rip by, for example, demanding that the album be improvised, entirely instrumental, largely completed in single takes, and recorded live-to-tape in just two days. The result is an urgent and electrifying musical adventure, well represented on the album cover by a shaven-headed Grantis wearing distinctive cowboy leathers and grasping her guitar like it is a shotgun that has just been blasted. One suspects the Purple One, who had been slated to produce this album before his untimely passing in 2016, would have loved everything about it.

“This was something Prince and I talked about," Grantis says. "He asked if he could produce the record, which is pretty crazy since the direction of the record overall was really influenced by him in so many ways. He introduced me to a whole new repertoire of jazz music I wasn't familiar with" (specifically Miles Davis' albums such as Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On The Corner.)

Grantis demands excellence and she has certainly found it from her Minneapolis band that includes drummer JT Bates, bassist Cody McKinney, keyboardist Bryan Nichols and tabla virtuoso Suphala. Pearl Jam’s
Mike McCready adds more high voltage firepower on a couple of tracks.

The album kicks off however with the surprisingly meditative and mellow Mr Majestic, with Grantis gently teasing feedback out of her guitar using her
EBow, to the rhythm of Suphala’s delicate tabla playing. Like the calm before the storm, the track perfectly sets the mood for what is to come.

Next up is the title track, whose funky, improvisational style within a classic jazz structure Prince surely would have appreciated. McCready steps up for the next tracks, Violetta and Trashformer, and that does not go unnoticed.
Grantis met McCready at a Prince concert in Seattle in 2013, and later joined Pearl Jam on stage in Toronto. The latter song, on which Grantis shines with her PRS custom signature, is perhaps the best on the record and, for those interested in trivia, was named after a cymbal. "After I bought it and took it home, I later realized it was called 'Trashformer,' and I thought 'that's gotta be a song,'" she says.

The last track, Elsa, is another barnstormer that has Grantis’ guitar licks backed by some outstanding drumming and keyboards.

Diamonds & Dynamite
is experimental, innovative and daring, and marks Grantis out as an independent artist to be reckoned with. Her influences are as clear as her single-minded ambition to drive her music in an entirely new direction. Grantis is reportedly embarking on a tour to back up the album release and these songs played live will be, it is not hard to predict, something any fan will not want to miss.


©Joe Lemke