Album Review: The Grascals – The Grascals & Friends
One of the best elements of a Grascals album is their choice in covers, which have included their own versions of songs made famous by Jennings, Jones, and Haggard–just to name a few. The sextet’s blend of bluegrass and classic country makes them one of the most entertaining, most consistent bands in roots music.
The Grascals & Friends is the first release on the band’s own BluGrascal label. Available at Cracker Barrels everywhere, the album is exactly what its title implies: a CD full of collaborations between the band and a few of their uber-talented musical pals like Tom T. Hall, Dolly Parton, Dierks Bentley, The Oak Ridge Boys, and, uh, Steven Seagal.
Another first: this is the Grascals’ first charity album, with a portion of the proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. One of the album’s two originals, “I Am Strong,” (written by Grascal Jamie Johnson, wife Susanne Mumpower-Johnson, and Jenee Fleenor), was inspired by a visit to the hospital. It’s a gentle, moving ballad reminiscent of Rascal Flatts’ “Skin (Sarabeth),” and were it released to country radio, it’d probably be a hit. However, album’s bonus track, a recording of “I Am Strong” that features the album’s guest artists all singing a line or two, treads a little too close to “We Are the World.” The first version, with just The Grascals, Parton, and Ansley McLaurin (a young St. Jude’s patient who, in her delivery of the lyrics, epitomizes the song’s message) is by far the better one.
The other original on The Grascals and Friends is “Cracker Barrel Swing.” Composed by Danny Roberts (mandolin) and Terry Smith (bass), the jazzy track gives the Grascals a chance to show off their expert picking skills on one of their best instrumentals in recent memory.
The covers—or, as they’re described on the album cover, the “country classics with a bluegrass spin”—are, for the most part, pretty sharp. Guest and song choice mesh wonderfully throughout the record, with Brad Paisley, backed by twangy Telecasters, nailing “Tiger by the Tail,” and Joe Nichols turning in a tender vocal performance on “Mr. Bojangles.” Dolly Parton, who The Grascals backed during her Hello, I’m Dolly tour, appears on three of the album’s 12 tracks, turning in the album’s strongest performance with Terry Eldredge on “The Pain of Lovin’ You,” which she originally wrote and recorded with Porter Wagoner for 1971′s Two of a Kind.
For the most part, The Grascals remain faithful to each song’s original sound, punching them up with tasty banjo and mandolin licks. Though their interpretations of these classics generally work, their Hank Williams, Jr. medley could easily have been left off the album, as it contains what is possibly the least-rowdy version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight” ever recorded. Luckily, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” featuring Charlie Daniels, includes enough raucousness for both songs.
The Grascals and Friends is a fun collection to listen to, and one that supports a good cause. You can’t ask for much more than that.
- luckyoldsun: I made it through a minute of that "Girl In a Country Song Video." Man, that sucks.
- lindsay thomas: Wife and I saw these guys last Thursday night, (7-24-14) at the Ryman in Nashville. What a show. …
- Donald: I'm guessing that is meant to read 're-release' Detroit to Wheeling, as the double album originally appeared on Pinecastle in …
- Michael A.: Has anyone else had a difficult time trying to get the free download from the Reba site?
- Dave D.: I can't believe that I never saw the Willie Nelson Monk episode - and it was a Sharona episode, as …
- nm: Taylor Swift was on CSI once. Not only was Steve Earle on The Wire, in one episode Omar quoted him about …
- Barry Mazor: It's only a slight stretch to recall when Jimmy Dean met James Bond: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbwDGtj84YY
- Arlene: I suspect you'll also be including an episode of L.A. Law....
- luckyoldsun: The Johnny Cash episode was the one Columbo case where you really felt "the b--- had it coming."
- A.B.: Janice - I saw that too and sent him a Tweet about it.