Review By Steven Stone
Some bands are hot. In five short years the Grascals have shot to the top of the Bluegrass firmament. In 2005 they received their first IBMS (International Bluegrass Musician’s Association) award for Emerging Artist of the Year and by 2006 had garnered IBMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year award. Both of their first two releases were nominated for Grammys. Their latest release, Keep On Walkin, maintains their dizzying upward trajectory.
You might suspect that such a relatively new band would have young members, but no one in the Grascals is under 30. Guitarist and lead vocalist Terry Eldredge started playing with the Osborne Brothers in 1988 at the same time he began a regular Tuesday night gig at Nashville’s fabled Station Inn Club. He has also performed and recorded with Dolly Parton, Chubby Wise, and DierksBently. The Grascal’s other guitarist and vocalist, Jamie Johnson, made his reputation in Nashville as a songwriter, writing for Bobby Osborne, Lonesome River Band and Ronnie Bowman. Mando player extraordinaire, Danny Roberts, was the plant manager at Gibson’s Nashville mandolin division for over a decade before joining the band full-time. The last founding member, bassist Terry Smith, stated his career playing with country legends Jimmy Martin and Wilma Lee Cooper. The two youngest members, banjo player Aaron McDaris and fiddler Jeremy Abshire, didn’t join the band until after 2006.
From the kick-off of the opening song, “Feeling Blue,” the Grascals demonstrate that traditional bluegrass doesn’t have to sound old-fashioned. Even on moderate tempo songs they maintain a driving rhythm that would make any hard-rocker envious. Their spot-on three part harmonies have a sufficiently gruff edge to keep them from being too mainstream country slick. The band treads a very thin line between a modern acoustic and the traditional old-style sound. They accomplish this feat by combining energy with restraint, and they do this so impeccably, whether it’s a solo, harmony, or backing rhythm part, that you can’t help but be impressed. With only two co-written original songs, Keep On Walkin relies on shrewd song choices to showcase the Grascals’ unique contemporary style. Covers such as Ivy Bryant’s “The Only Daddy that Will Walk the Line” and Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” have a more organic feel than the original versions, but still sound modern. Recently penned songs such as the title cut, “Keep on Walkin’,” retain the feeling of classic bluegrass, but with a contemporary twist.Without a doubt the Grascals personify what a great bluegrass band should be - precise multi-part vocals combined with virtuosic instrumentals. Keep On Walkin is so solid it’s positively golden.