"It's tempting to view guitarist Kris Gruda, a North Carolina resident, as part of a lineage of demented Southern avant-pickers stretching back to Chadbourne, and while that's not false, it's unnecessarily reductive. Gruda is but one particle in a contemporary wave of traveling minstrels plying the interstates and unnumbered highways of the Deep South, navigating between pickup gigs in urban centers from Asheville to Baton Rouge to Jacksonville to Amarillo, dipping into the free jazz songbook and a bottomless bag of capital-I-improv tropes to play for audiences of 0-50 intrepid listeners (most of them musicians themselves). Against all odds (and despite dismissal by a sea of jaded music "connoisseurs'' who would prefer to devour overpriced reissues than to attend actual performances), these musicians develop an evolving sonic language, unencumbered by dreams of success; nurtured by the promise of social connection, gas money, and the next bag of Beaver Nuggets.
Whether or not Gruda is one of these compulsive road-trippers is beside the point, because (as amply evidenced by his instagram account, @Grudakris) Gruda clearly spends a lot of his time in his car. Kris Gruda Plays for You was recorded entirely behind the wheel under lockdown in 2020-2021, mostly during shift breaks at the kombucha factory. Each track is a separate Instagram post, downloaded and spliced together into two unbanded sides (a la Beefheart's Strictly Personal), and as such, represents an audio verite tour of a musical vision that, amoeba-like, engulfs two worlds separated by a windshield -- the spinning car wash brushes, the passing cop cars, the preacher on the radio.
The cover (Gruda in a hairnet, oozing Waylon's outlaw bit and clutching a stickered acoustic) supplies a little bit of the IG multimedia appeal missing from the audio, but the sound ("without which none of this is possible," states Gruda) supplies an expansive narrative by itself. Each track, from the "Vote him Out" rap to the dual tracks of "Vehicular Sound Collage," is a gem of creative outreach, a stab not only against the claustrophobia behind the steering wheel, but also a rebellion against the forced isolation of the lockdown itself. The politics of Plays For You are Guthrie-direct, speak to individual action, and seek to inspire us to reach beyond our silos and attempt to reconstruct a virtual solidarity we could once access via a physical commons. But I suspect what will resonate most with listeners are the plaintive cries voiced by a canny (and virtuosically played) selection of classics by Coltrane, Kirk, Coleman, and Cherry, tiny scraps that remind us of a once-encompassing musical spirituality that spurred a half-dozen would-be revolutions (and which may someday do so again). Ultimately, the enthusiasm (and massive doses of sheer weirdness) Gruda exudes in Kris Gruda Plays for You lights up a big, friendly highway into the heart of a deeply idiosyncratic and charismatic vision that's a gas to listen to even stripped of its social media spectacle -- so put down your phone and just listen." - Tom Carter