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Bon Iver frontman shows lighter side

Published 4:59pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

Without knowing it, few people are going to hear the Shouting Matches’ “Grownass Man” and recognize it as the latest release from Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon.

At the end of the driving, drum-fueled song “Mother When?” Vernon howls the word “run” and lets his voice intentionally fall out of tune and across a register of notes as the track starts fading out.

It’s not a sound most fans would expect from the falsetto-voiced Vernon when he’s fronting Bon Iver.

The album is completely different than Bon Iver, and that’s a good thing. Vernon scarcely sings in his trademark falsetto tones, as he allows his voice to lower into a more comfortable, rugged register.

On “Heaven Knows,” Vernon sings in bluesy barks and hollers across wailing guitars.

Everything about the sound is more rugged, as the blues-rock trio consisting of Vernon and buddies Phil Cook and Brian Moen (who plays with Peter Wolf Crier) from Eau Claire, Wis., jam with guitar and drum heavy blues, adding keyboards, organs and harmonicas across the tracks.

The sound will remind many of the Black Keys, but more often it sounds like Vernon and company are paying homage to the classic blues artists.

“Grownass Man” may lack the depth and substance of the self-titled “Bon Iver” release that won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and also propelled Bon Iver to the Grammy for Best New Artist.

While some may be disappointed not to have a taste of Bon Iver between releases, this album benefits from being nothing like Vernon’s breakout sound.

Bon Iver’s true breakthrough came with 2008’s “For Emma, Forever Ago.” While a stunning album, Vernon recorded it after breaking up with his girlfriend, after his band DeYarmond Edison called it quits and while he was recovering from mononucleosis in a secluded Wisconsin cabin — so it would suffice to say it’s not a peppy album.

On “Grownass Man,” Vernon sheds the moody musician persona — the persona of the musician who locks himself in a secluded cabin in the woods to record somber masterpieces at night. Here, he sounds like someone having fun. Even the title of the album is clearly somewhat juvenile, separating the music even more from Bon Iver.

It’s a sign Vernon has potential outside his Bon Iver persona. People are quick to forget Vernon played with multiple bands of different sounds early in his career. The Shouting Matches even recorded an unreleased EP in 2008, just about the time Bon Iver was hitting it big.

“Grownass Man” sounds like the music made when a group of friends get together, has a few beers and jams. It may not attract the attention of Bon Iver, but the Shouting Matches allow Vernon to let loose, enjoy himself and produce something that’s fun to listen to.

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