Guitarist Tyler Grant, a National Flatpicking Champion and winner of the RockyGrass and Wayne Henderson guitar contests, among others, has spent much of his career in the jam band realm, playing with Drew Emmitt and Bill Nershi of Leftover Salmon and the String Cheese Incident, respectively. He’s also spent time with Abigail Washburn, Casey and Chris Henry, and April Verch. His latest album, Earth & Wood, is touted as a return to acoustic bluegrass for Grant, and is his first all-acoustic album since 2010’s instrumental record Up the Neck.
Grant wrote or co-wrote half of the album’s fourteen songs, proving himself not only a skilled composer but an adept writer, as well. Opening track Last Day on the Job is a smooth, reflective look at leaving a longtime job. It’s no quitting-man’s anthem, but a triumphant celebration of putting in years of hard work. With gentle (yet intricate) instrumentation and clever lines like “I got no badge and I don’t care no more, the only clearance I need is under my 4×4,” it’s a strong track. West Texas Wind, written by Grant with Benny Galloway, has a neat old west, cowboy song feel, telling the story of a rambler traveling through Texas with only his guitar and the wind as companions. Grant’s guitar break after the first chorus is worth a second listen, while dobro from Sally Van Meter and mandolin from Jordan Ramsey flesh out the song’s Texas vibe.
Galloway and Grant also collaborated on One Town One Tune, another rambling song about a musician who’s just trying to get home to the girl he loves while he’s making his way through the country “one town, one tune at a time.” It has a pleasant, rolling melody with an Americana/acoustic country sound. Grant’s Sweet Talking Angel is more classic country, with Van Meter’s dobro of particular note.
As is to be expected from a guitar champion, Grant contributes several instrumentals to the project. The Old Time Country Guitar is, as the title says, influenced by pre-bluegrass country guitar playing, with shades of Maybelle Carter in its mostly peaceful melody. Pick It is a grassy romp, calling on a full band to round out its sound and allowing each musician to interpret the tune in their own manner. It is obviously influenced by traditional bluegrass, but with progressive-leaning banjo and a bit of a jam at the end, it also allows Grant to show off his own musical sensibilities. Tyler Trail is a return to the solo guitar style that has brought Grant much acclaim, played smoothly and with obvious skill and care.
Another highlight here is the easygoing version of Albert Brumley’s I’d Rather Live By the Side of the Road, a Gospel number that highlights the virtues of living simply and living for the Lord. Fans of fluid guitar playing will also enjoy Grant’s renditions of the traditional Shove That Pig’s Foot a Little Further Into the Fire and Byron Berline’s Huckleberry Hornpipe.
On Earth & Wood, Grant definitely demonstrates why he has collected so many guitar contest wins. His picking is strong and confident; he effortlessly interprets traditional favorites and takes on various styles with ease. I particularly enjoyed the old West sound of West Texas Wind. The pickers he has assembled to support him are also talented. In addition to Van Meter and Ramsey, his band includes Adrian Engfer (bass), Patrick Hoeper (fiddle), and Dusty Rider (banjo). Guitar fans and those who enjoy original acoustic music should certainly check this one out.
For more information on Tyler Grant, visit his website at www.tylergrant.com. His new album is available from several online music retailers.