THE FAMOUS LEFTY FLYNN’S
Ah, those rascals the Grascals! They burst onto the scene five years ago with their Nashville-style of bluegrass—crowd-pleasing in-your-face energy, a big rousing sound driven as much by soaring vocals as searing instrumentals, a repertoire largely drawn from their own writing and that of contemporary country songsmiths, but staunchly acoustic and never more than a bluesy inflection away from traditional roots. Now comes their fourth album, The Famous Lefty Flynn’s. If anything, this talented six-some seems on track to being even hotter, fulfilling the promise shown by their past IBMA Emerging Artist and Entertainer Of The Year awards.
The two most recent additions (fiddler Jeremy Abshire and banjo picker Kristin Scott Benson) finally make their recording debuts with the group. They fit so well with Grascal charter members Terry Eldredge (guitar and vocals), Jamie Johnson (guitar and vocals), Danny Roberts (mandolin), and Terry Smith (bass and vocals), it seems as if they’ve been picking together since childhood. It’s clear this latest lineup is another winner right from the kickoff track “Last Train To Clarksville,” a rocking, swaying, wildly successful bluegrass rendering of the hit by The Monkees.
It’s not just about heat and flash, though. There’s plenty of warmth and light here, too. After years of sidemen’s experience with the likes of the Osborne Brothers, Larry Stephenson, Dolly Parton, and Jimmy Martin, and as the leaders of their own ensembles, the Grascals know when to ratchet it up to another level, and also when to glide it to another plane. The title track, the instrumental “Blue Rock Slide,” and the gospel numbers “Satan And Grandma” and “Give Me Jesus” are all the more affecting and enjoyable for their simplicity and restraint.
The Grascals’ connection to the Osborne Brothers is especially strong: Eldredge and Smith were Osborne sidemen; Benson backed the Osborne-influenced Larry Stephenson; Bobby Osborne guested in concert with the original lineup; and Sonny Osborne contributes liner notes here. But, the Grascals are not mere imitators. The Osborne influence adds gloriously to their general sound and to the success of this album. They’ve recorded two Osborne classics here — the rip sawing “Son Of A Sawmill Man” and the strutting “Up This Hill and Down” – an act as courageous as it was appreciative. Two-time IBMA Banjo Player Of The Year, Kristin ably fills the Chief’s banjo picks, and Johnson just nails the lead vocals.
The arrangements of the Johnson/Smith/Roberts song “My Baby’s Waiting On The Other Side” and Jeremy Montgomery Parsons’ “Out Comes The Sun” echo with the keening, top tenor-driven Osborne Brothers sound while perfectly suiting these superb originals.
Rounding out things is guest vocalist Hank Williams, Jr., on “Blue And Lonesome” (called here “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”), a song written by his father Hank, Sr., for good friend Bill Monroe during a package tour (which, sadly, they only sang informally backstage and never recorded together). Hank, Jr., channels his lonesome side in a solid performance. (Rounder Records Corp., One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.) RDS