To celebrate their 10th Anniversary last year, North Carolina’s Kickin Grass Band scheduled a live concert recording at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, released earlier this Summer as Live At The Carolina Theatre.
The album perfectly captures the band’s stage show, which blends guitarist Lynda Wittig Dawson’s folk and blues-inflected original material with the group’s contemporary-to-progressive approach to bluegrass. All but four of the songs are hers: bassist Patrick Walsh tackles Roger Miller’s Chug A Lug; banjo picker Hank Smith contributes a complex, multi-part banjo instrumental called Thirty One which also highlights fiddler Pattie Hopkins; mandolinist Jamie Dawson sings his song Left This Town and an automotive-themed number from Adam Lane, The Filling Station.
The primary focus, though, is on Lynda’s songs and her as lead singer. A trace of rapid vibrato in her voice brings the flavor of a folk singer to her style, contrasting with the smoother delivery you hear from most bluegrass vocalists. Jamie’s voice is a bit more ragged, well-suited to the grittier numbers he sings, and Pattie seems underutilized as a vocalist, featured solely on Lynda’s Walk With Me.
Highlights for me are Molly, which starts with a nice single string banjo intro, resolving into a novel “never came home” story with a Celtic twist, and the final track, The Morning Train, a simple but very sad song about faith and loss.
Being an anniversary concert, the band also welcomed a number of former members to the stage. The opening track, Lynda’s Gasoline Blues, features Ben Walters on banjo and Matt Hooper on fiddle. Kyra Moore took on the banjo duties on Life Is Not A Guarantee.
Both the audio fidelity and the performances are quite strong, which can be difficult to achieve with a live recording, and the audience reaction, while included, is kept to a minimum. You could easily forget that it’s a live album, until the end of each track.
Kickin Grass will be prominent during the IBMA World Of Bluegrass later this month, where they have the distinction of being hometown representatives for Raleigh, NC where the events will be held.
Live At The Carolina Theatre is available from popular download sites and on CD from CD Baby.