West Virginia’s Crandall Creek hasn’t been on the bluegrass scene an extremely long time, but their songs have already made a big splash on bluegrass radio – particularly on those stations that favor the Grassicana style. The band’s first few singles from Headed South, their new album on Bell Buckle Records, have made their way onto the Bluegrass Today Grassicana charts, with lead single Drivin’ Me Insane staying on the charts for more than six months. With these songs, and the rest of the album, Crandall Creek showcases thoughtful original songs with a smooth contemporary style guided by guitar and fiddle.
One of the standout aspects of this album is the vocals. Crandall Creek is packed with fine vocalists, although several singers featured on the group’s previous singles have since departed the band. Drivin’ Me Insane is one of the best vocal showcases, with several band members taking a turn on lead. The radio single version, released back in March, featured former bass player Lilli Gadd, former fiddle player Heather Wharton, and Kathy Wigman Lesnock each taking a turn on lead, while the album cut includes Abby Latocha. The overall sound is soulful, with a bit of anger and sassiness, as the singers take their anger at a cold-hearted man out on the train that carries him to and from town. Another strong vocal performance appears on This Heart of Mine, which opens with gentle guitar from Roger Hoard and Jerry Andrews. Latocha’s voice is wistful as she reminisces on a broken relationship.
The Bean Song is another gentle, peaceful track, though its subject matter is a bit different. Lesnock’s and Latocha’s vocals blend perfectly as they sing about the simple life and the wish to escape a cramped city apartment for a place with “a garden in the yard, a front porch with a porch swing, and room to see the stars.” Warm fiddle guides Headed South, which follows the singer’s escape south on a train to Asheville, North Carolina – though perhaps it was all a dream?
Though many of the songs here have a laidback, folksy and singer-songwriter vibe, there are several with a more upbeat, traditional sound. Pine Over You is a fun toe-tapper led by Dustin Terpenning’s banjo. It follows the fine bluegrass tradition of happy-sounding sad songs, with the singer pledging to “sit in this holler, and pine over you.” Oh Glory Be kicks off with some hot fiddle, and keeps a nice pace throughout. It’s a well-written song with a farming theme, lamenting the need for the just-right amount of rain – not the type that drowns the fields for 40 days and 40 nights.
There’s plenty for listeners to appreciate on Headed South, especially if they’re fans of soaring, expressive vocal performances, original songwriting, and solid musicianship. Though Crandall Creek is classified as Grassicana on the charts, likely thanks to the singer-songwriter vibe throughout much of the album, fans of most contemporary bluegrass should also find their music enjoyable.