The International Bluegrass Music Association handed out its awards this past week, and while I didn’t pay attention as the awards were handed out, as I typically would, I did take interest in the results.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was that our (Alberta’s) Blueberry Bluegrass Music Festival was named 2019’s Event of the Year, joining venerable fests including Bean Blossom, Wintergrass, Grey Fox, and others as ‘top of the heap.’ A well-deserved honour, without doubt, and only the second time a bluegrass event from outside the United States has been recognized. Congrats to those who have guided the festival as it builds toward its 35th edition this summer.
I won’t provide an analysis of the results as they are readily available elsewhere, but I was pleased to see Sister Sadie named Vocal Group of the Year, Brooke Aldridge again named Female Vocalist of the Year, and Kristin Scott Benson receiving her fifth Banjo Player of the Year trophy.
The Grascals, Scott Benson’s band, released a new album late this summer. Eleven albums, including a playful EP, into their 14-year career, the names and faces have evolved but the sound remains constant. Only Terry Smith (bass) and Danny Roberts (mandolin) remain from the outfit that started at the top with “Me and John and Paul” all those years ago — the damn song made me bawl again today, as it has every single time I’ve heard it; they have been one of the most consistent bands on the circuit, producing album after album of quality bluegrass.
There are times when the groups ‘almost’ sounds like The Gibson Brothers, a quality brought to the group by newest newest member Chris Davis. His own co-written “Don’t Leave Your Memory Behind” is one of several showstoppers within the set, while Becky Buller’s “My Virginia Mama,” Billy and Terry Smith’s “Who Needs You,” and Chris Coole’s “Straighten the Curves” are other songs likely to receive considerable radio attention.
We’re all suckers for a dog song, and that likely explains the preponderance of them within the bluegrass genre. “Haggard,” a Harley Allen song, is another strong selection. “What Does God Look Like” doesn’t appeal as much—it is too precious—but the near-standard “Callin’ Your Name” and “They Laughed”—linking the outsider status of Elvis, Mark Twain, and Jesus—make up for it. The venerable Roberts instrumental is present, this one—with echoes of bluegrass standards—a jumpy tune called “AndiWayne.” “The Shepard of My Valley (What Would I Do Without Jesus)” receives an excellent performance. A cover of Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” is hardly essential, but will go over well with audiences.
The Grascals remain one of bluegrass music’s strongest bands. John Bryan (guitar), Terry Smith, and Davis are as powerful trio of lead singers as a group could hope to boast, while Scott Benson is an imaginative banjo player who never seems to go too far out on the branches. Adam Haynes’ fiddle playing lends that mournful sound we love; give a listen to “Don’t Leave Your Memory Behind.” Former member Terry Eldredge guests on “Heartbreak Hall of Fame,” a nice touch for the fans.