Live the life you’re meant to live. That’s the overarching sentiment of Mike Grutka’s fifth album, February Sessions. “After my mom died [in 2004], the last two records have been more hopeful,” says Grutka. “She was really young when she died. And there’s something in me that’s like, ‘You’ve got to do this now. No one else is going to do it for you.’
That bit of self-realization has Grutka set to release his second album in less than a year. February Sessions comes quickly on the heels of last October’s Ria, and finds the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based performer broadcasting an inspirational message over a sound he calls “acoustic based funky modern roots rock-n-roll.” Well-established in his home region and having already scored airplay at more than 400 radio stations across the U.S. and Canada, Mike Grutka is sure to reach his widest audience yet with February Sessions.
Made as part of the RPM Challenge (an online event that asks artists to compose and record a full album during the shortest month of the year), February Sessions serves as a kind of complement to its predecessor in that the overall vibe is looser, more live than the painstakingly produced Ria—something not easily accomplished by one guy in a home studio. Figuring he would simply finish some of the many Ria leftovers, Grutka ended up writing nine entirely new songs for February Sessions, and completing two others. If a performance was good Grutka stuck with it, rather than obsess over every note; the few vocal parts he attempted to re-record were scratched in favor of original takes.
At the album’s emotional center are “She Said” and “Find Your Home,” two songs that find Grutka dealing with the loss of his mother in directly personal terms. This reflective tone serves as counterpoint to the rest of the disc: The hopeful energy that manifested itself in Ria’s generally upbeat tones thoroughly pervades February Sessions. From the Beach Boys harmonies of “La La Song” to the huge chorus hook of “How the Story Ends,” much of February Sessions maintains an easygoing, acoustic-flavored feel.
Ria (“air,” backwards) is what Grutka proudly calls his “big pop record.” With three albums already to his name, he’d already proven himself a talented writer and performer—this was his chance to introduce some new sounds into the mix and concentrate on shorter, more focused songs . (“I got way too in my own head about it,” he says of the three-years-in-the-making album. “It took forever to finish.”) Narrowed down from roughly 80, the 12 songs that made the cut find playful blasts of electronica swirling together with Grutka’s melodious, acoustic-based pop-rock. But Ria is undeniably a showcase for his voice: Many of the album’s songs are constructed around expansive, layered vocal arrangements, particularly the lush “Standing Beside Me,” the British Invasion head-bopper “Everything,” and the single “Denver (Spinning Around).” The latter’s chiming electric guitars and breezy flow recall vintage R.E.M., as does Grutka’s disarming tenor, oftentimes a dead ringer for Michael Stipe.
Grutka intends to keep up the quickened recording pace—“I’ve decided to release albums on the Beatles’ schedule,” he half-jokes—because life, as we all know, is fragile. “People can never steal you from you.” As he sings in the closing lines of February Sessions highlight “Escape”: “It’s your heart/ It’s your life/ It’s your soul/ Sing it out now!”
Mike Grutka will sing his life for you if you care to listen. And when you hear his music, you’ll sing too.