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New Groove

Published: 2001/07/17
by Bonni Fierstein

The Grapes of Vaudevillian Fantasy

The Grapes of Vaudevillian Fantasy are a bunch of liars. The other night, they insisted they arent a jamband. If that were the case, I would have packed up my stuff and headed home. The trouble is, as much as they cautiously downplay their superior ability as musicians, The Grapes squeeze all they can out of themselves and JAM.
The Stamford, CT based band graciously invited me to their little haven/office/rehearsal space, Grapeville, the other evening to discuss all things grapes, vaudevillian, and fantasy over a bottle of wine (naturally). In the hours that followed, Randy Funke (guitar/vocals) and Joe Tripuzzi (bass/vocals) introduced me to the inner workings of their band that I love so much, and the grandiose vision they have for The Grapes.
Since their inception in 1999 as an acoustic quartet, The Grapes have twisted and turned up the vine to their current lineup as an electric sextet which besides Funke and Tripuzzi includes Rhei C. Gordon on vocals and dance, Adam Rosen on drums, Stan Hammond on keys and harmonica and Steve DeFala on alto/soprano saxophone. The bands loyal following and continuous touring schedule has yielded them a place as Southern Connecticuts new darlings, as they hail from the same area as funk band extraordinaire, Deep Banana Blackout. Being on the heels of such an amazing band who are also our friends is an honor for us, said Tripuzzi, they have opened many doors for us in the scene.
Its easier for me to describe The Grapes sound by analogizing it to an image that I conjure in my mind when I think of the band. The Grapes bring me back to childhood and playing dress-up. Listening to their music reminds me of putting on my moms clothes, shoes, makeup and jewelry and waltzing around the house. Had The Grapes been around back then, they would have provided the perfect soundtrack. Besides being stellar musicians, The Grapes have an air of sophistication and playfulness that cannot be outdone by anyone in this day and age. They have a predominately jazz/swing/blues sound, but flavor these stylings with honky tonk, R & B, and good, old-fashioned rock and roll. It is not unusual to attend a Grapes show and hear covers by The Grateful Dead and The Beatles interspersed into a very posh set. Like most bands, to fully experience The Grapes you have to see them live. But what makes The Grapes unique is not only a show stimulating to the ears, but also to the eyes. Gordon is an incredible front woman. Shes a siren in the truest sense of the word. Her voice is pure sugar and she incorporates beautiful modern dance moves into the show. Her improvisational choreography is as much a part of the show as the music is. The Grapes plan to build on this, their vaudevillian fantasy, if you will. The Grapes want to create something, maybe an epic saga, mused Funke and Tripuzzi. They are influenced by ideas like The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Rolling Stones The Circus. Over time, The Grapes hope to incorporate artists, dancers, poets, and other musicians into their show to add a real Vaudeville feel. They bounced around many ideas to me about this the other night, but one that really stuck was an idea Gordon shared. It would be cool to start a show with a drum circle, so the audience can let down their inhibitions and start dancing. Then, we would slowly add the musicians until we were all up there and everyone was dancing.
Rather than play shows for the audience, The Grapes get up on stage and play however the audience makes them feel. They are true and genuine in their feelings. I have never seen a band that takes so much energy from the crowd and their surroundings. The audience acts as the bands muse and inspiration and the happier the crowd is, the happier the music is. The band plays clubs like the Wetlands in NYC and The Snow Barn at Mt. Snow, VT, and festivals like Berkfest and The Gathering of the Vibes. They are also known to play cafes, coffee houses and museums, and their show is COMPLETELY different night after night, even if the repertoire chosen from their 40+ original songs remains the same. Tripuzzi claims The Grapes are moody, and though their sound can go from sweet to sour in the matter of seconds, all moods are delightful.
If you have made it this far, then I am sure you are wondering why The Grapes dont consider themselves a jamband. We are songwriters, states Tripuzzi, and people leave our shows humming the tunes that they have heard. While this is definitely true, it doesnt take away from the skills of the individual members and the band as a whole, which they consider to be one voice. The band has only had this lineup for about a year, but when you watch them play, you can tell that they can get into each others heads and know where everyone is coming from.
Last week, The Grapes released their first album, House of Love, which was engineered and produced by Grapes fan and Grammy award winning veteran recording engineer, Jay Newland, who has worked with Pat Metheny, Etta James, Derek Trucks, and Eric Clapton, to name a few. The recording of the CD was a gift from the heavens for the band. Newland, who loves The Grapes, offered to record, mix, and produce the album for them free of charge. So, during that last snowy week of 2000, the band, Newland, and various friends and loved ones holed themselves up in Grapeville for four days and recorded. What came of this session is a beautiful mix of music, nine tracks that have the potential to make you laugh, cry, sing, dance, but most importantly, warm your soul. From the positive vibe of Rising Up (Were risin up, just open your eyes, its written in the stars so it should come as no surprise), to the downright fun Skinnydippin (I saw your hiney, its kinda shiny, you better hide it before I bite it, lets go skinnydippin), The Grapes have a knack for writing good songs. The song that really shines is the title track, House of Love, which exemplifies the message The Grapes are trying to convey (There comes a time, you got to rise above, and find the feelin deep down within your soul).
The Grapes wear their hearts on their sleeves and their songs are all very personal with a universal appeal. The band feels like they are riding on a cloud but in the same respect, they are holding it up with their hands. They have been given such amazing opportunities, like the gift of the album, and they want to return the good karma. They are secure in the fact that in order to receive, you must give first. Due to this, The VERY generous Grapes are making a VERY generous offer. If you are one of the first 100 to visit their website at, sign up in their contact section and mention that you read this article on, they will send you a copy of House of Love. Now hows that for a free opportunity to get juiced?

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