Hearing a CD from The Grascals for the first time is like having an old friend drop by. Even if you haven’t seen each other for a while, you know just what to expect and get comfortable right off the bat.
So it is with Straighten The Curves, the band’s latest release for Mountain Home Music. Everything fans have come to expect and love is here: award-winning picking, superb vocals, a couple of burners, and some down-home Gospel, all packed into a dozen songs. It’s country-tinged bluegrass at its best.
As always, the instrumental work is driven by award winners Danny Roberts and Kristin Scott Benson, on mandolin and banjo, respectively, along with fine fiddle work by Adam Haynes. But to my ear, the highlights of this Grascals project, like the others before it, are the vocals. Even with the retirement of original member Terry Eldredge, the vocals are as polished as an apple from the teacher’s pet. Newest member Chris Davis shares most of the vocal duties with John Bryan and Terry Smith, providing a smooth transition.
Highlights include My Virginia Mama, the Becky Buller song that kicks off the recording; What Does God Look Like, a well-crafted Gospel song from the innocent vantage point of a young girl; and the remade Eddie Rabbit country classic, Drivin’ My Life Away. That last one was all over the radio way back in the last century, but the Grascals make it sound like it was written recently, just for them. That’s another hallmark of a Grascals project that makes their music approachable. Remember Last Train To Clarksville from the Monkees? The Grascals crushed it a couple of years ago. This one is even stronger.
But the best of the dozen songs here, to my ear, anyway, is Heartbreak Hall of Fame, written by Larry Joe Cox, Ray Edwards, and Dicky Minor. The subject of the song isn’t your every day, ordinary heartbreaker. She’s going down in history right along with the best (worst?) of them, no doubt a dubious distinction.
It’s a great song that’s already reached number one on numerous charts. Because it was released as the first single for this CD, it features Eldredge on a magical lead vocal. So we get to hear him one last time with the band.
Also worth a mention is AndiWayne, an instrumental written by Roberts. Regular readers know I prefer songs with lyrics – if a lyricist is going to have a prejudice, why not that one, right? But this is a fun diversion after eight vocal numbers. And it’s only fitting that it features Roberts and Benson, since AndiWayne is Danny’s wife’s nickname, and Wayne Benson is Kristin’s husband.
it appears to be named after their spouses, Andrea Roberts and Wayne Benson.
There is one song here that grates on my ears, and it feels almost sacrilegious to mention because it was written by the late, great Harley Allen. The song is Haggard, about a dog that howled along with his country-star namesake on the radio. It’s tender and beautiful – I’m a sucker for dogs – right up until the point in the last verse where we’re told he still tries to chase the cat. Present tense. Then in the very next line of that verse, we’re told, “He died one night while on my lap.” It bothered me the first time I heard it, and every time I listened it took me out of the song. So if I’m near the remote, I skip it.
But that’s a small markdown on an otherwise exemplary CD. I happily listen to the rest of this wonderful recording, welcoming the band into my car or living room like old friends.