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The Grascals

and then there's this... – 2016 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by The Grascals

One of bluegrass music's strongest and most engaging performing groups, Nashville's The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. Their Rounder albums were impressive with each an excellent introduction to the group. More recently, the band has occasionally faltered by producing music lacking distinction. Albums have been uneven in both song selection and execution. The Grascals have attempted to broaden their appeal in ways detrimental to their brand, "American Pickers" from 2013 being just one example.

Confidently, The Grascals elect to have their eighth album open with the voice of the newest band member, John Bryan. Outside of it being a strong song, this decision perhaps indicates the six-piece has been revitalized by his addition. The result is their strongest album in years.

The Grascals continue with their three-lead vocalist arrangement. Bryan is a complementary foil alongside Eldridge and bassist Terry Smith. More than a decade in, the group's distinctive vocal and instrumental arrangements are instantly identifiable, and throughout "and then there's this..." the familiarity is welcomed and celebrated.

Sung by Eldridge, the gentle lope of "The Road of Life" stands out alongside Bryan's leads including "Sweet Little Mountain Girl," "If You Want Me To" and "I Like Trains." In contrast, "Warm Wind" is sang as a duet, an arrangement that appeals. Smith's performance of "Old Friend of Mine," assured and homey, is appealingly sentimental, revisiting familiar bluegrass textures favorably.

On the energetic "Delta Queen," Eldridge's lively singing recalls the urgent whistle of a river boat, with Adam Haynes' fiddling providing additional verve. And add "Autumn Glen" to the list of fine bluegrass instrumentals, a showpiece for Haynes, mandolinist Danny Roberts, and five-stringer Kristin Scott Benson. The country gospel song "A Place to Hang My Hat," previously recorded by Randy Travis and Porter Wagoner, fits in nicely.

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 Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with "and then there's this..."