- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

The Grascals

The Grascals

Rounder/Pgd

This self-titled debut recording might be the first joint effort for the Grascals, but the music sounds as if it comes from a tight band of road-tested bluegrass veterans — because it does.

The six members of the Grascals, who have toured as part of Dolly Parton’s backup band as well as opening her arena shows, have been knocking around Nashville for years. The group made its first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry last week, introduced by Miss Parton.

They met when their paths crossed while they were backing such stars as Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. They also performed with Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, among others, and in the Sidemen — a house band at Nashville’s Station Inn, a legendary bluegrass venue.

No fewer than four of the six band members have an Osborne Brothers connection. “The Grascals” kicks off with Bobby Osborne sitting in on mandolin on “Leavin’s Heavy on My Mind,” an Osborne Brothers tune written by Jim and Harold Rister.

But the disc’s shining moment comes in its penultimate track, a remake of the Elvis Presley hit “Viva Las Vegas,” with Miss Parton guesting on vocals. The single debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard country chart.

In between are some rollicking traditional songs, including “My Saro Jane” and “Sally Goodin” as well as “Bevans Lake Crossing,” an achingly beautiful instrumental from the band’s Canadian-born banjo player, David Talbot. The song begins with a Celtic feel and shifts into high-geared, flat-out bluegrass.

Grascals guitarist Jamie Johnson co-wrote two songs on the disc, “Mourning Dove” and “Where I Come From,” a title cut for a Bobby Osborne album. The disc closes with a traditional gospel song, the harmony-laced “Sweet By and By.”

Nashville songwriters supplied the remainder of the material. Harley “Red” Allen penned “Me and John and Paul,” a pure country, heart-tugging coming-of-age song, and shares co-writing credits with Tommy Sutton on the country classic “Teardrops in My Eyes” (a song covered by the Grateful Dead and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band).

Roger Murrah gets writing credit on “Where Corn Don’t Grow,” originally performed by Travis Tritt. He also wrote “Some Things I Want to Sing About.” Here, the band once again taps its hero, Mr. Osborne, for vocal support.

Although traditional bluegrass listeners might be put off by the gentle percussion and light pedal-steel on a few of the disc’s more country-flavored songs, the Grascals remain true to tradition with tight harmonies, blistering instrumental licks and bluegrass themes; producing a sound that’s 99.9 percent pure. This kind of music has a crossover appeal that’s attracting new and younger fans to the genre.

So even the snobbiest traditionalist should listen and enjoy the Grascals’ sound.


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