Review: Grascals Light Up the Ryman

The Grascals took hold of the stage, Thursday, July 8, for Springer Mountain Farms Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman in Nashville and blazed through a more than 90-minute set that featured both individual and group virtuosity, doses of good humor and a couple of unexpected surprise moments.

Jamie Johnson, Danny Roberts, Dierks Bentley, J.D. Crowe, Kristin Scott Benson,
Terry Smith, Jeremy Abshire and Terry Eldredge
photo by DLIMAGE/DL-IMAGE.COM

Following their stellar opening act, J.D. Crowe and the New South, the six-member Grascals—lead vocalist Jamie Johnson, guitarist Terry Eldredge, banjo player Kristin Scott Benson, fiddler Jeremy Abshire, mandolin player Danny Roberts and upright bassist Terry Smith—served up selections from their latest album, The Famous Lefty Flynn’s, along with past favorites such as "Me and John and Paul" and "Keep On Walkin'." The group does a sterling job of mixing up the selections and segueing seamlessly from one tune to another. Plus, each member gets the chance to show his or her instrumental prowess, from the tasteful picking of Kristin Scott Benson to the revved-up mandolin playing of Danny Roberts and a lesson in slap bass by Terry Smith.

Highlights were plentiful, "Satan and Grandma" and the fiery instrumental "Blue Rock Slide," both from the new CD, among them. The audience got a particular kick out of The Grascals' take on the Monkees' pop hit "Last Train to Clarksville." It's not as much of a stretch as might appear on the surface—the plaintive lyrics lend themselves perfectly to a bluegrass treatment, especially in their capable hands.

The surprise of the evening came with an appearance by Dierks Bentley, a huge fan of the group, who joined in on guitar and vocals for "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line."

Showing further versatility, The Grascals whipped through a brief medley of songs by Hank Williams Jr., who added the group to his Rowdy Friends Tour this year. Suffice it to say that you'll think twice before questioning whether "Born to Boogie" can be done up bluegrass style. Perhaps the lone misstep was their cover of George Jones' "White Lightning," as Terry Eldredge's voice seemed a bit too pure and high-pitched to give it the requisite blue-collar credibility.

Overall, though, The Grascals bring something that's often lacking in contemporary stage shows—true entertainment value. They know how to keep things lively and moving at a crisp pace. And, they can just flat-out play. Check out The Grascals as they continue their summer tour. It doesn't come any better.

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