january 2011


BluGrascal Records

To launch their own label the Grascals invited some friends over to the studio to get it going on eleven tunes from the country music canon and throw in a new, uplifting original message song (twice), “I Am Strong,” designed to draw attention to the childhood cancer epidemic and penned in part by the formidable Grascals vocalist Jamie Johnson, it also features one of Dolly Parton’s two appearances on this disc. The songs lose nothing in their “bluegrass spin” mode—with Brad Paisley adding an exuberant vocal, Buck Owens’s “Tiger by The Tail” still hits hard, and guitarist Kent Wells adds a spitfire electric solo that nods to Don Rich (although that quick glissando he hits at the beginning seems a nod to Pete Anderson, Dwight Yoakam’s former alter ego, and seeing as how without Buck there is no Dwight…well, you see the lineage) before stepping aside for the bluegrass tint to be applied courtesy solos by Grascals Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), Jeremy Abshire (fiddle) and Danny Roberts (mandolin). Dierks Bentley has a terrific turn delivering “Folsom Prison Blues,” making way at the break not for a tart Luther Perkins-style guitar solo but rather for a lively Roberts-Benson mandolin-guitar dialogue, with Abshire adding some jittery fiddle rhythm on down the line to set up some smooth Grascals bluegrass harmonizing. Looming large in the Grascals’ legacy, Ms. Parton joins the band she gave a break to a few years ago to add her plaintive mountain ache to a Porter & Dolly evergreen, the tear-stained “The Pain of Loving You,” in a performance made ever more poignant by Hargus “Pig” Robbins’s discrete honky tonk piano shadings. You might think Charlie Daniels would have wearied of performing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by now, but he sounds positively energized when he steps into the action here, although it’s a tossup as to whether Charlie, the harmonizing Grascals or the hot fiddling is more the star of this track. So it is with the Oak Ridge Boys, who are enlisted to reprise one of their great early hits, “Leavin’ Louisiana In The Broad Daylight.” Their voices are not as bright as they once were, but the harmonies are rich—and the Grascals take the baton from the Oaks in a flawless musical handoff—the bass is right there, and the bluegrass lope of the arrangement enhances the lovely melody, and of course is the perfect framework for Benson, Abshire and Roberts to make their presence felt on the monument that was one of the first big hits for songwriter—and an American classic in his own right—Rodney Crowell.

‘I Am Strong’—written by the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson and his wife Susanne Mumpower-Johnson along with Jenee Fleenor after the Grascals visited the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and were inspired by the stories and power of the children being treated there. Dolly Parton contributes a guest vocal. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of The Grascals & Friends album will go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The easygoing waltz arrangement of “Mr. Bojangles” and the Grascals’ first-verse harmonizing establish a mellow mood, only to have Joe Nichols take it to another level of poignancy with his bluesy vocal. Darryl Worley on “White Lightning”; Tom T. Hall reprising his own towering “The Day Clayton Delaney Died”; and the Grascals needing no help to fire up a Hank Jr. medley of “Born to Boogie/All My Rowdy Friends” and gin up the Cajun flavor of Bob McDill’s “Louisiana Saturday Night”—it all works. Nice way to start the new year, nice way to help a worthy cause, and, the past being prologue, a nice way to introduce your new label. -–David McGee

The Grascals & Friends: Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin is available exclusively at all Cracker Barrel Country Stores and online at http://cbmusic.crackerbarrel.com/artists/grascals. A portion of the proceeds from the album sales will go to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024