Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he Grascals are riding high on the bluegrass circuit. The band took home the coveted International Bluegrass Music Association entertainer of the year award last fall. And they have two strong albums under their belt as well.
The sextet demonstrated why the acclaim is deserved before a full house of 400 at the Boston Bluegrass Union show with 2 strong vocalists, excellent playing and a batch of worthy songs.
Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson, who both play acoustic guitar, take turns on lead vocals, and both are more than up to the task. They also help each other out on backing harmonies, further adding to the depth of the presentation of the songs.
Johnson is the talker of the group and does a good job in introducing the songs, adding a few humorous moments without overdoing it either.
The songs are strong ranging from the lead-off song on their debut, "Leavin's Heavy on My Mind" to the title track of their sophomore effort, "Long List of Heartaches" to "Roll Muddy River." While "Me and John and Paul" brought the group some prominence, the Harley Allen tune came off a bit too sappy.
Almost every song seemed to be spiced by a combination of the excellent playing of Terry Smith on bass (he also added harmony vocals occasionally), Danny Roberts on mandolin, Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle and newcomer Aaron McDaris on banjo, late of the Larry Stephenson Band before joining in December to replace David Talbot. Often, it was just a few fills here and there, and other times the music stretched on for awhile. However it happened, it worked.
The Grascals are part of a recent spurt of bluegrass bands making a name for themselves such as Cherryholmes and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Based on their energetic, well-conceived show, it was easy to see why.
Portions of both sets resulted in newcomer Bradley Walker taking his spot on stage and singing a total of seven songs backed by The Grascals to a very strong response from the crowd.
Walker, who recalls Brad Paisley vocally, mixes bluegrass and country with a voice that is quite easy on the ears. He turned in a fine reading of Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors" and Jimmy Martin's "Drunk Up."
The 28-year-old Alabamian is confined to a wheelchair because he is afflicted with muscular dystrophy, but that certainly did not affect his abilities in any way.
To the credit of both Walker and The Grascals, the marriage worked quite fine with The Grascals capably adding backing vocals and musically backing Walker without ever having done so before.
Walker hasn't had a chance to do many shows - his "Highway of Dreams" debut hit stores last September via Rounder - but based on his outing here, he ought to get his music out more.