It’s probably pretty safe to say that many of today’s bluegrass musicians first learned to play, or at least to appreciate, bluegrass music from a family member. Some of the latest evidence of this is the father-son duo of Eric and Ben Marshall, who hail from the Mt. Airy, North Carolina area. Eric, who has been playing banjo with the regional group The Marshall Brothers and Highroad since the late 90s, first taught Ben to play bass when he was so young he had to stand on a picnic table to reach the neck of his instrument. Several years later, they’ve released their first album together (with a little help from Eric’s band), entitled Grass Roots Project.
The Marshalls wrote the majority of the eleven songs on the album, and prove themselves to be fine traditional bluegrass songwriters. The opening track, Just as Sure as the Stars are Above, is a driving, banjo-guided number about enduring love that sounds as if it could have been pulled from half a century ago. I’m On My Way to Canaan’s Land is an enjoyable Gospel song, with a pulsing rhythm courtesy of Ben’s bass.
Two numbers were written with Wes Easter, who also recorded the album at his Eastwood Recording Studio. The Farmer’s Hand tells a familiar story in bluegrass and country music, that of the triumph of good guys over bad ones, this time when a farmer rids the town of the troublesome Johnson brothers. Why’s Leaving You So Hard to Do tackles another common bluegrass theme, with its lovelorn narrator pining after a fickle woman. It’s an enjoyable song, though it’s a bit strange to hear a pre-teen singing about trying to leave a woman whose “wandering heart no man can tame.” A nice addition to both of these songs is fiddling from special guest Billy Hawks.
Several other songs were written solo by Eric. The lonesome Just My Memory of You is done in ¾ time and has a neat Stanley-esque vibe. A Better Day has a more contemporary feel, telling the story of a man whose life was filled with hurt until meeting the love of his life. Little Darlin’, like most of the album, heads back into strongly traditional territory, with hard-hitting banjo and the singer begging his woman not to leave. Eric sings lead on all three of these songs, giving listeners a taste of both bluegrass and more country-tinged vocals.
Eric and Ben are joined here by their bandmates in The Marshall Brothers and Highroad, Steve Marshall (who is also Eric’s brother) and Patrick Lindsey. Both men share mandolin and guitar duties throughout the album. In addition to banjo, Eric contributes rhythm guitar on a few tracks, while he and Ben take turns on lead and harmony vocals.
For more information on Ben and Eric Marshall, visit their band’s website at www.marshallbrothershighroad.com. Their album can be purchased from several online music retailers.