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Family ties aside, Peter Cornell’s Grace rocks in its very own way


Anyone who’s ever had a high school superstar for an older sibling gets it on a limited scale: “Oh, you’re so-and-so’s brother/sister!” You just have to grin and bear it until you have a chance to prove that you’ve got a personality apart from just being related to somebody better-known than you.

Julian Lennon. Jacob Dylan. Wilson Phillips. Dweezil Zappa. Think what it’s got to be like to be one of them. In an ideal world, children and siblings of famous performers wouldn’t have to suffer the inevitable comparisons to famous parents and siblings, see all their press prefaced with the inescapable name-drops, put up with the usual dumb jokes—genius must skip a generation, talent must not run in the family, etc. But what are you going to do? This isn’t any kind of ideal world, and it’s a shell game to figure out who’s going to be a rock star and who isn’t. Artists with immediate name recognition have an automatic advantage in the game; when you think about it, it’s pretty petulant of them to complain about it—which is often what happens, and all the “Why can’t I just be myself?” kvetching often makes for better entertainment than the music itself. If that name is bothering you so bad, li’l legacy, why not change it? Or just shut up and ride those coattails like the wind.

Peter Cornell could have done any number of things to put some miles between his career and that of his kid brother, former Soundgarden heartthrob Chris Cornell. He could have made his band, Grace, into a kind of “Chris who?” statement about artistic autonomy.

But he didn’t have to. As both of the band’s five-song discs indicate, the simple fact of being the other Cornell kid isn’t something that drives the elder brother’s music. With the exception of some modulated guitar on “Counting the Tears” that brings “Black Hole Sun” leaping to mind, Grace’s music doesn’t sound any more like Soundgarden than anything else. It’s a lot poppier, devoid of any punishing sludge chords, and a lot heavier on the acoustic guitar—in other words, it’s fairly representative of the state of radio pop these days.

There is, however, the Voice to contend with—as far as that goes, Peter Cornell is very much his brother’s brother. Hide it though he may behind swank harmonies, a lazy vibrato and radio-friendly choruses, when that voice gets caught out in the open, there’s just no denying the pedigree. It’s a little thinner than what’s-his-name’s and it doesn’t have that howling edge to it, but it’s a comfortable presence—if disconcertingly similar at times.

Soundgarden always denied their Led Zeppelin influences, instead claiming fealty to the Fugs or whatever obscure prog band they could pull out in time to snow the interviewer. They were lying—the Led Zep stamp on Soundgarden was just as bold as you please. I just want to know what the Cornell kids listened to together.
Grace plays the Ritz on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. Admission is FREE.

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