Archive for the ‘The Grascals’ Tag

The Grascals- Before Breakfast review   Leave a comment

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The Grascals Before Breakfast Mountain Home Music Company

The Grascals can be counted on to deliver, every eighteen months or so, another collection of mountain solid, formidable and smooth bluegrass.

Over nine albums and one very fun EP, The Grascals have consistently been one of bluegrass music’s stellar outfits. While not everything they have ever attempted has resonated with me (I felt their The Grascals and Friends country-hybrid project was—to be generous—uneven) there are few bluegrass bands I would rather encounter than The Grascals.

Before Breakfast is as strong an album as the group has released. From the catchy opener “Sleepin’ With the Reaper,” a fine Becky Buller-Grant Williams addition to the bluegrass canon of fidelity, through to the closing sing-a-long rambunctiousness of “Clear Corn Liquor” The Grascals present a well-rounded collection of bluegrass excellence.

John Bryan has been an outstanding addition to the group. His vocals on not only the lead track, but additional and quite diverse songs including the excellent “Delia” (coming from Jon Weisberger, Charlie Chamberlain, and Charles R. Humphrey III) and “I’ve Been Redeemed” are uniformly impressive.

One of three remaining original members of the group, Terry Eldredge offers up his always appreciated, earthy approach to tender songs. “Demons” faces down the temptations we all face, while “He Took Your Place” is a familiar song of faith worthy of modern interpretation.  “Beer Tree” and “Clear Corn Liquor” (from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes) are less weighty, but no less worthy.

Bassist Terry Smith takes the lead position on a single song, “Lonesome,” (co-written with sibling Billy) and one wishes the album had another couple samples of his country-inspired approach to bluegrass singing (without subtracting anything—running 38 minutes, five or six more minutes featuring Smith would have comfortably stretched Before Breakfast.)

I’ve listened the this album fifteen or twenty times this month, and each time I notice another little fill or roll from Kristin Scott Benson. While her 5-string sounds are all over the album, there are places—as on “Beer Tree” and “Delia”—where her contribution is so subtle you almost miss it; once recognized, it is impossible to again miss and one realizes the importance of every single element within the greater expanse of this bluegrass combo—nothing is included out of habit or obligation, each note serves a purpose.

Danny Roberts, with Eldredge and Smith forming the august original core of the group, is like Benson a proverbial master of his instrument if under-recognized, and his mandolin playing is well-featured, never more so on his instrumental romp (co-written with fiddler Adam Haynes) “Lynchburg Chicken Run.” Roberts and Haynes work together well as on “He Took Your Place” and on Kelsi Harrigill’s (Flatt Lonesome) “There Is You” Haynes adds depth to a rather sentimental set of lyrics.

“Pathway of Teardrops” is a well-established bluegrass harmony showcase going back to The Osborne Brothers, and The Grascals’ interpretation goes toe-to-toe with that venerable classic rendition: not better, but equally their own. No matter where The Grascals go, they never stray too far from the foundation.

Before Breakfast, after lunch, and during supper—there is no bad time for The Grascals. Now, would someone bring them to Alberta—it has been a dozen too many years since I’ve seen the group live!

 

 

 

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Bluegrass Albums of 2016   Leave a comment

Here is my list of Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a perplexing, cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favourite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

  1. untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel & Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day. Also, if taken together with the rest of the roots and Americana world, my favourite album of the year.

2. 307217534cdbb2ec36864489b286660fSister Sadie- Sister Sadie (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-coverThe Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar (Rounder Records) Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The  Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off—Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

4. TheMoreILearnBryanSuttonBryan Sutton- The More I Learn (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with The More I Learn, with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. balsam-rangeBalsam Range- Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. Mountain Voodoo lacks nothing.

6. unnamedJames Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season (Mountain Redbird) I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an under-heard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returned this spring with a wonderful new album, Rhyme & Season. Rhyme & Season is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. rightbesideyou_280Jeff White- Right Beside You (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) Right Beside You is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, Right Beside You sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. blue_highway_original_traditional_cover_rgbBlue Highway- Original Traditional (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. paisleyDanny Paisley & Southern Grass- Weary River (Patuxent Music) Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. 1455228838118Del McCoury Band- Del and Woody (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. Del and Woody should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- Storyman (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. Storyman comes almost seven years after the exceptional Circles Around Me, an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) Storyman is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- Long I Ride (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- …and then there’s this (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with …and then there’s this.

14. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent (LoHi Records) Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- Familiar With the Ground (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced Familiar With the Ground, The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- Modern Day Man (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of Modern Day Man, Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- Ramblin Feels Good (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, Ramblin Feels Good is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.

 

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016   1 comment

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Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass (and eventually I will cross-post here) I have meticulously and expertly (!) compiled my list of my favourite bluegrass album of the year 2016. Please realize, these are my favourite bluegrass albums meaning, a) your list may be different, b) I don’t pretend to know what is best, and c) your definition of bluegrass may be different from mine. After much nasal grazing, these are the twenty I came up with, the albums I most enjoyed, most frequently listened to, and most highly regarded.

By a fairly large measure, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions topped my list. The complete article is posted HERE.

Enjoy.

Grascals, Honeycutters, Travers Chandler, & Sister Sadie- lost/found   Leave a comment

Starting the ‘year-end’ process, and in doing so I found a couple reviews posted elsewhere that I didn’t link through here at Fervor Coulee.

Very early this year, The Grascals released their eighth album ..and then there’s this. Country Standard Time published my review. It was a great way to start off what turned out to be a better than typical year of bluegrass albums. grascals

This summer, The Honeycutters knocked me out with their exceptional album On The Ropes. That review was published at Lonesome Road Review. the-honeycutters-on-the-ropes

Travers Chandler’s Archaic was released a few months back, and my review was published over at Country Standard Time; the typo is likely entirely my own danged fault. Some good ones on here, but a couple clunkers, too. archaic

Finally, can’t believe I missed putting up a link to one of my favourite albums of the year, Sister Sadie’s debut release. What a set- over at Country Standard Time.

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Careless on my part- sometimes it is hard to keep up. Best to you- listen to some roots music. Maybe even buy it! Donald

Only The Grascals could make me watch Leno   Leave a comment

Received in the Fervor Coulee inbox today:

“Nashville, TN — Bluegrass power-pickers, The Grascals are headed to NBC’s Burbank Studios for their Tonight Show debut on Friday, January 25th. The band will perform “Mystery Train” from their Grammy-nominated album Life Finds a Way.

It’s a coast-to-coast week for The Grascals who performed in Washington D.C. on Monday as part of the Inaugural events. The band played at the Native Nations Inaugural Ball at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. Founding member, Jamie Johnson, is a member of the Chippewa tribe.

Join host Jay Leno with The Grascals as musical guest this Friday, 1/25/13.  The Tonight Show airs on NBC at 11:35 p.m. Eastern / 10:35 p.m. Central.”

I remember the thrill of hearing The Grascals for the first time. “Me and John and Paul;” what a song! I am so jaded now, it is hard to remember that I was gobsmacked the first time I heard them live. While I haven’t always agreed with their choice of material, I’ve continued to enjoy the band’s recordings. I might set the PVR to catch this one.

Posted 2013 January 23 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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The Grascals- Dance Til Your Stockings are Hot and Ravelin’   1 comment

From the first time I heard The Grascals, I was sold. “Me and John and Paul,” the first song I heard from the band back in 2005, hit me between the eyes and it likely took me a full year before I could listen to the track without tearing up. It was an amazing debut number and a stellar way to make an initial collective mark within the bluegrass world. To my ears, it was the last IBMA Song of the Year that truly stood far above the competition; the Harley Allen track was an instant classic.

That being said, the band has- in my opinion- faltered at times, recording too much music that wasn’t distinctive enough. Still, taken as a whole, their four Rounder albums are darn impressive, and any one serves as an excellent introduction to the group.

I’ve given up on trying to differentiate between Jamie Johnson’s and Terry Eldridge’s voices since both are terrific, but I think it is Eldridge’s I most enjoy. Since the introduction of  Kristin Scott Benson into the band’s sound on the 5-string, the band has reached new heights.

For years, The Grascals have been one of the most media savvy of bluegrass bands. Their friendship and musical partnership with Dolly Parton has served them well. With the release of their Cracker Barrel album this past winter, the band took things to the next level.

Still, The Grascals and Friends Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin was imperfect. My review of that album is available here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/the-grascals-friends-country-classics-with-a-bluegrass-spin/. I understand the broad-based, marketing decisions behind the album and its execution- with a couple of missteps- is impressive.

Whereas the previous release stretched the definition of bluegrass into middle of the road country to a point where it wasn’t bluegrass, The Grascals’ latest release Dance Til Your Stockings are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show very nicely grabs the music by the collar and hauls it back 50 years.

“Dooley” gets the proceedings started and things barely slow down for the next 15 minutes as The Grascals blast through seven songs, a television series, and fifty years of bluegrass history.

This is the music I love even though I’ve heard most of the songs more times than I care to count. Does anyone need to hear “Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)” again? But, when The Grascals perform the song, I’m glad to listen. “Boil Them Cabbage Down” and “Ol’ Joe Clark” sound like the classics they are, but are presented with the drive, fire, and fervor that made them immortal within bluegrass.

Produced in conjunction with one of the band’s sponsors- Mayberry’s Finest Foods- the collection includes a theme song that drops- to good effect- familiar Mayberry names and situations. “Boy, Giraffes are Selfish” takes its title straight from a Barney Fife line, and the song gently lopes along revealing Mayberry wisdom.

For those who were disappointed that The Grascals and Friends mostly played down Scott Benson’s banjo contributiongs, Dance Til Your Stockings…  makes up for it- the 5-string is front and center throughout this collection.

Does Dance Til Your Stockings are Hot and Ravelin’: A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show move bluegrass along its evolutionary timeline? Nope, nor does it need to. Instead The Grascals revisit the timeless, popular core of the music and reminds everyone that you can’t move forward if you forget- or don’t know- the past.

That and tie in cross-marketing whenever possible.

The E.P. is available from The Grascals website and iTunes, and much of the project is presented as video on www.grascals.com. The Grascals are scheduled to appear (with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Marty Stuart, Connie Smith and others) at this summer’s Blueberry Bluegrass and Country Music Festival in Stony Plain.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

The Grascals & Friends- Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin   2 comments

My review of the latest from The Grascals has been posted at the Lonesome Road Review site: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4591

Following a pattern established by other bluegrass artists, most notably Vincent & Dailey with Sing the Statler Brothers, the sextet join forces with Cracker Barrel to showcase countrified bluegrass. With V & D moving somewhere plus of 40K copies of their bluegrass-infused versions of country classics, Rounder labelmates The Grascals attempt to capture similar retail magic.

Interesting note: three of the songs on Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin were previously featured on Heights of Grass’s 1978 album Louisiana Saturday Night.

One confusing element is The Grascals’ ongoing efforts toward rehabilitating Hank Jr.’s cred with the “Born to Boogie/All My Rowdy Friends” medley; Hank Jr. circa 1985 was bad enough- covers of his windbaggy, urban cowboy-era hits is entirely baffling, to me. 

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Posted 2011 January 11 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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