January 25, 2014
St Xavier Performance Center,600 West North Bend Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45224
Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must form a bond – one that, more often than not, goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional resumes and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a hallmark of the Nashville scene for more than forty years. As their records prove, The Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each offering’s deepest spirit – whether they’re digging into one of their original songs or reworking a bluegrass classic or a pop standard.
Vocally, the trio of Terry Eldredge, Jamie Johnson and Terry Smith are tighter than ever, cutting loose on driving solo vocals and soaring trios with equal fire and passion. As an instrumental unit, The Grascals have never sounded sharper, with mandolin ace Danny Roberts, fiddler Jeremy Abshire and banjo player Kristin Scott Benson leading the charge. As a result, their cutting-edge modern bluegrass is delivered with a deep knowledge of, and admiration for, the work of the music’s founding fathers. Timely yet timeless, The Grascals make music that is entirely relevant to the here and now, yet immersed in traditional values of soul and musicianship. It’s a unique sound that has earned two of their previous releases (THE GRASCALS, 2005 and LONG LIST OF HEARTACHES, 2006) Grammy® nominations for International Bluegrass Music Association’s Best Bluegrass Album.
The group’s newest CD, the 13-track THE GRASCALS & FRIENDS (January 10, 2011, BluGrascal Records) is a special project produced in conjunction with (and sold only in) Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®. The disc features The Grascals in true duet format with close friends, including: Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Dierks Bentley, Joe Nichols, Charlie Daniels, Tom T. Hall, The Oak Ridge Boys and Darryl Worley. Paisley’s rollicking version of Buck Owens’ “Tiger By The Tail” is an engaging romp of pure fun; while Parton strikes a more serious note as she shines on “I Am Strong,” a song that appears in both duet and “cast version” format on the disc and features the touching vocals of three-year old cancer patient, Ansley McLaurin. The “cast” version features not only special guests Terri Clark, Randy Owen and Steven Seagal, but most of The Grascals’ aforementioned duet partners as well. The song, written by The Grascals’ own Jamie Johnson (along with wife, Susanne Mumpower-Johnson and friend, Jenee Fleenor) was inspired by a visit Johnson, Smith and Eldredge made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. As Johnson recalls, one child had written on a “thought wall” the words: “I Am Strong,” and the song was born. Parton’s heavenly voice has never been better, and her performance is simply stunning. “It’s like a choir of angels when she sings,” Terry Smith adds. A portion of the funds raised by “I Am Strong” will be donated to St. Jude’s, and collectively, The Grascals hope the song will do well if for no other reason than that.
THE GRASCALS & FRIENDS project brought Tom T. Hall out of retirement, and Smith laughingly recalls the day Hall reported in for duty to sing his own 1971 #1, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died.” “Tom’s such a professional,” Smith says. “He walked right in, said ‘howdy’ and got right down to it – and it worked. He nailed it in two or three runs.” Paisley, understandably busy with his ongoing success, nevertheless made time to participate, and his cut is a disc highlight. “We’re really humbled that he found time to do this for us,” says Danny Roberts. “I mean, come on, he’s the CMA’s 2010 Entertainer of the Year. That’s big!”
Dierks Bentley’s take on “Folsom Prison Blues” is exactly what the group had imagined it would be. “That big, raspy voice,” says Terry Eldredge, “was the perfect fit.” And, the “perfect fit” is what the group had hoped for all along – and got – with THE GRASCALS & FRIENDS as a whole. The project was a labor of love for the group; a reunion of sorts – a blend of “old” and “new;” “past” and “present.” There is a feeling of homecoming and unity that will give Bluegrass fans plenty to love, and Country fans familiar favorites – Grascalized.