Album review: New Bums – Last Time I Saw Grace

Source: album artwork

Words by Lady Godiva

About half a century after Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder‘s shamanic adventures, The Dharma Bums, New Bums surfaced whilst kicking their heels in San Francisco, reinventing bohemian life and releasing their debut in 2014. After a long time on the road interrupted by the pandemic, this year welcomes their second effort Last Time I Saw Grace, a stripped down and endearing diary. Donovan Quinn and Ben Chasny are old hands at the music scene as both have been active for the past two decades, the former in the psychedelic two piece Skygreen Leopards and the latter in the shamanic folk one-man band Six Organs of Admittance.  They share a love for acoustic guitar and pastoral music, which resonates in this blissful side-project.

They wear their heart on their sleeves and as a modern day band, follow in the footsteps of iconic pairs such as John Renbourn and Bert Jansch (the guitar picking has 1966 written all over it) but also post-punk rockers Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth aka Jacobites. Quinn and Chasny are effortlessly melodic and unabashedly forthright, which is refreshing. Their candid and lo-fi ways are their trademark and a symbol of authenticity. 

New Bums are companions in misfortune who pen nonchalant yet catchy tunes about life, love and its complications. Every track makes a story as a fragment of their existence. “Billy, God Damn” is an inviting opener, it sets the tone and lures you with its alluring and lecherous vocals. That voice is ear candy! “Obliteration Time” emphasizes the stream of consciousness charm to the Californians’ tracks, which enables them to connect simply and directly with the listener. While you may never even have seen these lads, you will most likely feel akin to them and to their existential dilemmas.

On the same token, “Marlene left California” goes deeper with its unrequited love vibe, it oozes the romanticism of Jacobites’ “In Robespierre’s Velvet Basement”, capturing your heart along the way. Quinn and Chasny both have their own way to captivate the listener and, combining forces, their harmonies are even more engaging, especially in the satirical  “Cover Band”,  the symphonic “Street of Spies” and the delightfully retro “Hermitage Song” with exquisite symbiosis between the guitars which may remind one of of Bert and John’s “East Wind’. 

These troubadours’ moods are as hilly as their resident city of San Francisco and every tune leaves you with a smile, a sigh or any other fervent inclination. To paraphrase their final song on this record, follow them up the slope throughout their adventures.

Last Time I Saw Grace is due for release on Drag City Records on the 19th March

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