Good Grief is Larry O. Dean's 13th solo album, and the first featuring new material since 2001's Sir Slob. What began as a cathartic process in 2008 is finally seeing the light of day some seven years hence. Much as he enjoys the studio regimen, Dean is not one to ostentatiously prolong the experience, preferring instead to utilize recording as a method to capture not just a set of performances but a moment in time; he is neither a ditherer, nor a perfectionist, and is always excited to complete one project with an eye on what's next. But scratching this particular aesthetic itch in a timely fashion proved easier said than done.
After his current band, The Injured Parties' debut, Fun with a Purpose was in the can and awaiting release, Dean unexpectedly lost two people close to him: his mother, Marilyn, plus friend and college-era musical collaborator, Al Shippey. Another longtime cohort, San Francisco bassist Ned Doherty had plans to be in Chicago on business, so in lieu of counseling and/or heavy drinking, Dean proposed therapeutic recording instead. Rounding out the rhythm section he enlisted former Poster Children drummer, Howie Kantoff, and assembled a list of recent songs along with some that had originated with his previous band, The Me Decade. Those unusually fruitful sessions yielded the bulk of what's here, augmented by contributions from another SF compatriot, Lee Bloom on keys; Detroiter George Friend on guitar; and vocalist Lupe Martinez from Chicago psych-pop band, Allá. Completing Good Grief was delayed while Dean supported The Injured Parties' debut, but in 2011 Doherty was flown in for new sessions, this time with Hoyle Bros. drummer Lance Helgeson on board. Guitarist Bobby Sutliff, formerly of Mississippi indie-poppers The Windbreakers was asked to contribute to these songs, but following a debilitating car accident he was unsure whether or not he'd be able to play again; rather than forge ahead Dean decided to wait and happily, Sutliff was eventually able to bring his trademark melodic jangle to two cuts. Rounding out the set is a thematically apropos, deconstructed take on Translator's “Everywhere That I'm Not,” featuring Decoy Prayer Meeting's Brian Stout.
Good Grief 's songs weren't written in response to the tragedies that initiated their recording, but they do focus on change, transition, and loss, especially in the opener and closer. “Didn't See It Coming” is perhaps the most songwritery number here, an encapsulated narrative covering key events in Dean's upbringing through major moves to California and then back again to his native midwest, while “Under the Influence” metaphorically speaks to the impressions friends and lovers leave on our lives. True to form, many of the album's songs rely on black humor, such as “Happy Accident,” “Mad in the USA,” “Botox Party” (inspired by a story in the New York Times on upscale, clandestine inject-a-thons), and “Heather's Diary” (a collective portrait of trust-funders Dean encountered in San Francisco), while the most outrightly political, again based on a NYT article, is the anti-death penalty treatise, “Ohio Executes Schizophrenic.”
Bringing everything together is producer Chris Stamey (The dB's, Yo La Tengo, Tift Merritt, Ryan Adams), with whom Dean previously worked on Post Office's Fables in Slang. Stamey's old school approach favors the warmth of analog sound and creating a cinematic canvas on which these songs come alive.