In the 1990s, guitarist and singer/songwriter Ed Krizini got together with some friends and formed The Grassland Band. While the original configuration was short-lived, Krizini would continue to use the name for this New Jersey-based ensemble, which has recorded a few other projects. For their latest effort, Life’s Been Good, both current and former members of the Grassland Band have come together to record a double CD set containing a total of forty songs.
The majority of the tracks are covers of bluegrass and country standards, with roughly ten of the songs being original material written primarily by Krizini. As previously stated, there are several musicians on this project. The two constants are Ed Krizini on guitar and Travis Wetzel on fiddle and mandolin. Joe Fili also contributes fiddle duties to this project, along with Bill Turner on dobro, Ron Trotta and Justin Sitler on banjo, Larry Greybill and David McDonald on bass, and Alice Harmon on dulcimer. It would’ve been helpful if the liner notes had stated who played and sang on which track. At times, it’s difficult to differentiate between instrumental approaches.
The title track, Life’s Been Good, was written by Ed Krizini. While the melody itself is catchy, it’s lyrically uninteresting. As with several other songs on this project, such as Where The Grasslands Meet, Another Bluegrass Smile, and Sounds Like Heaven To Me, it follows the tired formula of listing off bluegrass greats and/or subject matter pertaining to the genre. It gets particularly overused and monotonous in this collection.
One of the few original songs that doesn’t follow this trend is God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise, which tells a great story of a person’s desire to step back into their Christian faith and return to church. I’ll Find The Way is another gospel song that’s hands down the best original on this entire collection. Hold Me In The Fire was contributed by Travis Wetzel. While it’s a nice song lyrically, the performance comes off as a forced contemporary bluegrass rendering, and doesn’t suit the band well at all.
Life’s Been Good does have several great moments. Down In The Arkansas by Jimmy Driftwood is performed in a fine old-time fashion. Alice Harmon’s dulcimer adds a wonderful touch to this track. Krizini also really shines on lead guitar during the Flatt & Scruggs evergreen, Your Love Is Like A Flower. Travis Wetzel shines on fiddle particularly on Avalon and Blue Ridge Mountain Home.
This two CD collection features several songs from the country canon. Time Goes So Slow comes from Skeeter Davis. Here Today and Gone Tomorrow by the Browns features excellent three part harmony from members of the Grassland Band. Corrina, Corrina and Panhandle Rag are performed with western swing instrumentation, which makes their inclusion on this project feel out of place.
The album closes with What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, and is perhaps one of the strangest arrangements ever performed. Starting out as an upbeat bluegrass song, the band eventually slows the song down, performing it in the same fashion as Armstrong. While I get what they were attempting to do, it wasn’t executed particularly well.
Life’s Been Good is an inferior release. The arrangements and musicianship are really loose, many times too much so. The standards that are performed here are re-hashes of what’s previously been done, and the majority of the originals are uninspiring. With that said, this project does contain a few diamonds scattered throughout its rough form.