True Grass Again
When we last heard from venerable bluegrass vets Carolina Road, the Lorraine Jordan-led group was teaming with 70s and 80s country chart toppers including Eddy Raven, John Conlee, Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, and John Anderson for a disc of ‘grassified, rearview-mirror country imaginings. The results were enjoyable if not breathtaking; such projects suffer an uneasy dichotomy featuring singers unwilling or unable to divert from the vocal cadence they’ve employed for forty years—the music is bluegrass, but the singing remains within a familiar country mold.
While capable and comfortable finding veins between country and bluegrass, Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Songs such as “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling,” “Back to My Roots,” “Cold Kentucky Snow,” and “A Stop in Southport Towne” are bluegrass, through and through. Fully realized with True Grass Again, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass.
Carolina Road remains Jordan (mandolin, vocals), Ben Greene (banjo, vocals), Josh Goforth (fiddle, vocals), Tommy Long (guitar, vocals), and Matt Hooper (fiddle), with bluegrass veteran Randy Graham (Bluegrass Cardinals, Quicksilver, Continental Divide) now joining on bass and vocals. All appear throughout True Grass Again, although not all the band members are featured instrumentally. Jason Moore and Terry Smith share bass duties, while Will Jones handles the majority of the guitar parts, with several guest vocalists—including Graham—featured.
The North Carolina-based group doesn’t waste any time laying down their manifesto. Joined by traditional stalwarts Danny Paisley and Junior Sisk, Tommy Long and his cohorts flat declare:
“True Grass” isn’t the first song declaring a bluegrass reconfiguring is desired in this ‘big tent,’ all-encompassing industry, one which appears to continually attempt to redefine itself. The C. David Stewart song nails the conviction while ignoring the reality: to pay the bills, the genre must evolve. And there’s the rub: how do those who love the traditions of bluegrass compete within a crowded Americana-dominated world?
If bluegrass has taught us anything over its seventy-plus years, it is that we are great at ignoring financial reality: bluegrass isn’t about paying a mortgage as much as it is the sweet harmonies, “old fiddles, a guitar and mandolin, with a banjo, a Dobro, and an old bass walkin’ in.” And True Grass Again delivers on this promise.
“Run Little Fox,” “Little Country Home,” and “Portrait of the Blues” are they types of songs and performances that have made bluegrass what it is and always should be. This tradition is further entrenched by a terrific, lively rendition of “Preaching, Praying, Singing” and the more temperate “I Hear Angels Calling Your Name.” Randy Graham is given three leads, including “Pickin’ Rock Out of the Bluegrass” and “Poor Monroe.” Jordan’s “Another Soldier,” sung by Goforth, is a song that could find itself becoming a bluegrass standard.
Within “True Grass,” the lyric, “If we are true to our roots, our music might survive” closes the final verse. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road appear to have recommitted themselves to this mission as their bluegrass promise. True Grass Again is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful bluegrass outfit.
As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald [I was asked to revise this review for Country Standard Time, and that version of the review can be found here.]