Life Finds a Way
Mountain Home Records
5 stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
The Grascals surprised me. I remember watching them when they first started touring apart from Dolly Parton and, though impressed with their sound, for some reason now obscured by time I didn’t think they would last. Bands change members about as often as a new mother changes diapers, but the Grascals have stuck together.
Their individual talents are unquestionable and their roots show in their music. Terry Smith, upright bassist, son of the well-known Nashville music journalist Hazel Smith, worked with Jimmy Martin, the Osborne Brothers and Mike Snider and recorded with his brother Billy as the Smith Brothers before joining the Grascals. Kristin Scott Benson, IBMA banjo player of the year (2008, 2009, 2010) has recorded with a number of bluegrass stars and is married to Wayne Benson of IIIrd Tyme Out.
Jeremy Abshire plays fiddle. He came to the band from Dale Ann Bradley’s band midway in the band’s life and has proved a valuable addition while mandolin player Danny Roberts was there at the beginning, leaving the Reno Tradition to join the band.
The two boys from Indiana have a link to the Boys From Indiana, one of the top groups a few decades ago. Jamie Johnson grew up down the road from Aubrey Holt and appeared with BFI in the ’90s, then went on to help found The Wildwood Valley Boys with Tony Holt, Aubrey’s son. Jamie moved to Nashville and bounced around with some big Nashville names before helping to found the Grascals with his pal Terry Eldredge.
Terry, from western Indiana, started out with Lonzo and Oscar but went on to play with the Osborne Brothers and Lonesome Standard Time plus a list of other top acts in bluegrass and country. Terry and Jamie play guitar and do most of the lead singing.
The title track is an upbeat song about the trials of life and how “life finds a way” even when times are tough. This is the kind of song they often perform. Even if the basic premise of the song is sad there’s still an undercurrent of hope and an uplifting message. Then there’s “Bartender.” It’s hard to find an uplifitng message in this tale of a man still carrying a torch for Linda.
Bartender, pour one for Linda, I hate to drink alone
I’ll be drinking doubles each night with her gone
In the bottom of the glass her reflection I see
Bartender, pour Linda one more for me
Then one day it’s just gone. No more second glasses for the bartender to fill for the memory of Linda. Back in the day when country music was still country there’s a long list of artists that would have cut this song.
“Mystery Train” dates back to 1953 and Junior Parker but the biggest-selling version was released by Elvis Presley in 1955. Rock ‘n’ roll, country, bluegrass—makes no difference, this is a good song. And speaking of rock, James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” isn’t your typical bluegrass number, but made famous (for bluegrassers) by the Seldom Scene on their Act 1 album. The Grascals give us another good rendition of this number.
A contribution to the album from Aubrey Holt is his well-traveled “You Can Mark It Down,” covered by a number of bluegrass artists since BFI did it. Leaving but positive about it, you can mark it down, then switch to a more melancholy “Still They Call Me Love.” If you’ve ever suffered heartaches you’ll appreciate:
I invented heartbreak
I came up with pain
How much can these fools take
Are they all insane?
If you like your bluegrass fast and driving, you’ll love “Lay That Hammer Down,” or country blues and booze then listen to “Honky Tonk Lullaby,” or a gospel number asking for help from above then you should listen to “Road To Surrender.” This newest CD is a potpourri of good songs and topnotch musicians. What more could you want?