Black Music Matters Festival

The Grascals

The Grascals & Friends - Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin – 2011 (Cracker Barrel)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

Four impressive albums, chart-topping songs, Grammy nominations, and multiple International Bluegrass Music Association awards mark The Grascals as one of today's most successful bluegrass bands. "Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin" has a big, bold country sound that is brightened by the inclusion of bluegrass trappings.

The lack of driving banjo throughout the recording may be of concern, and certainly any mountain ruggedness within The Grascals sound - and admittedly, they are among the smoothest bluegrass bands working - has been effectively buffed from the arrangements. In its place are uptown country sounds appreciated largely for the nostalgia evoked.

Contemporary hit makers including Darryl Worley, Brad Paisley, and Joe Nichols are featured on songs that topped charts 40-plus years ago. The always welcome Tom T. Hall sings The Year Clayton Delaney Died and the Oak Ridge Boys join The Grascals for Leavin' Louisiana in the Broad Daylight. Frequent collaborator Dolly Parton joins in on a pair of songs including her own Oh, The Pain of Loving You.

Some of the most successful moments come when The Grascals aren't playing host: Louisiana Saturday Night benefits from Jeremy Abshire's exuberant, Cajun-inspired fiddling and the instrumental Cracker Barrel Swing is a jumping little tune.

The Grascals' bluegrass base may be less satisfied with this recording than casual listeners or those newly encountering the band's music. With partial proceeds earmarked to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital - highlighted by the emotionally charged new composition I Am Strong - the album has merit and provides enjoyable listening.

More marketing strategy than artistic endeavor (albeit expertly performed), one shouldn't expect the impressive strength and breadth of previous releases from The Grascals.