Benefit of Doubt
4 Stars (out of 5)
Benefit of Doubt leaves no doubt what Pam Gadd’s been up to since her musical partnership with Porter Wagoner ended with his death in October 2007. The singer/songwriter/banjoist has finally finished her first album in over seven years and come up with the crown jewel of her career thus far.
“Hold What You Got” isn’t just the opener; it’s an advisory, as Gadd gathers an all-star cast and launches into fourteen tracks of fiery bluegrass and impassioned ballads. Gadd gets backing from Bryan Sutton, Aubrey Haynie, Andy Leftwich, Mark Burchfield, and former Wild Rose mates Wanda Vick and Nancy Gardner, and harmonies from Grasstowne’s Steve Gulley and former New Coon Creek Girl pal Dale Ann Bradley. She duets with Marty Raybon on “After the Fire is Gone” and Dolly Parton on “Apple Jack.”
Gadd’s clawhammer banjo on the latter and Scruggs-style picking elsewhere are excellent. Meanwhile, her vocals and lyrics are stronger than ever, particularly on the superbly-crafted “Until She Makes It Home,” “The Only Thing Left Between Us,” and the closing tribute “Farewell Wagon Master.”
If only the planet could negotiate these turbulent times with a fraction of the grace with which Pam Gadd glides between playful romps and heartfelt confessionals. Grassers can take solace in the beauty and brilliance Benefit of Doubt brings to the bluegrass world. Indeed, Gadd is good!
by Tim Walsh