Album Review: The Grascals – The Famous Lefty Flynn’s
Okay, so maybe neither of those tidbits is exactly surprising: the Grascals have been recording solid classic country-influenced bluegrass since their inception. Nevertheless, a new release from the band is always exciting, not to mention a surefire contender for Album of the Year.
Since their last release, 2008’s Keep on Walkin’, there’s been a pair of important personnel changes. Rising star Jeremy Abshire—formerly with Dale Ann Bradley—replaced Jimmy Mattingly on the fiddle. Reigning IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson ably fills Aaron McDaris’ fingerpicks on her first album as a Grascal, nimbly weaving intricate solos on the breakneck Osborne Brothers tune “Son of a Sawmill Man” (which gets Sonny’s stamp of approval in the liner notes) and playful instrumental “Blue Rock Slide.”
It’s safe to say that The Grascals are masters of the cover. Their take on “Viva Las Vegas” drew scores of fans when the group burst onto the scene just a few short years ago; more recently they’ve tackled country classics like “Today I Started Loving You Again” and “The Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.” Here they kick things off with a buoyant version of The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” sung in three-part harmony by Jamie Johnson, Terry Eldredge, and Terry Smith. And just in case one Osborne Brothers song isn’t enough, “Up This Hill and Down” is performed with all the skill and oomph of the original. Meanwhile, “My Baby’s Waiting on the Other Side,” with its soaring vocals and tight harmonies sure feels like an Osborne standard, but perusal of the liner notes reveals that it’s a Johnson/Smith/Danny Roberts original that just sounds like they blew the dust off an old 45. Title track “The Famous Lefty Flynn’s” also sounds older than it is: the story of a legendary bank robber and his cellmate planning an escape to recoup hidden loot is somewhat reminiscent of other “buddy songs” such as “Pancho and Lefty.”
If there’s a slightly dim spot on the album, it’s “Satan and Grandma:” it may boast the most interesting title on the album, but the song itself is a comparatively boring ballad about a grandmother’s unflagging faith. But it sure sounds nice, and that counts for a lot. Besides, the stirring version of “Give Me Jesus” that closes out the record more than makes up for one so-so song.
Last year The Grascals backed Hank Williams, Jr. on his single “All the Roads;” here Bocephus returns the favor and contributes lead vocals on “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome.” If there’s any song that best sums up The Grascals’ blend of bluegrass and country, it’s this one, written by Hank Sr. and Bill Monroe backstage at the Opry decades ago. Hank Jr. and The Grascals sound great together, and they sure seem to be having a blast; here’s hoping for more collaboration in the future.
The Grascals just keep getting better with every studio release, and fourth album The Famous Lefty Flynn’s once again raises the bar for modern bluegrass albums. If you’re one of the few who haven’t been turned on to their sound yet, here’s a good place to start.
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