Music review: Grascals bring soul, flash to bluegrass

The Grascals brought back-porch pickin’ to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Thursday night, but like

The Grascals brought back-porch pickin’ to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Thursday night, but like you’ve never heard it before.

After all, the six members of the group are all virtuoso players — their collective resumes include Nashville session work with everyone from Dolly Parton to Jim Martin. For roughly an hour and a half, the band took down home bluegrass and country to the next level, each song brimming with soulful playing and always just the right amount of flash. And though the crowd may have been criminally small, those who came couldn’t deny that the show was a stunning success.

The band kicked things off in the high energy vein with “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” immediately following with “Last Train to Clarksville.” Things slowed down a bit on “Beneath Still Waters,” where the three-part harmonies of guitarists Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson and stand-up bassist Terry Smith became readily apparent. Eldredge and Johnson took the lead vocals for most of the evening, their reedy tenors weaving in and out of each other on “The Only Daddy That Will Walk the Line.”

Each member of the group got a showcase song, beginning with striking banjo player Kristin Scott Benson (a four-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year winner) on a jaunty instrumental rag. Mandolin player Danny Roberts got his chance to shine on his self-composed instrumental, “Blue Rock Slide.” Smith may have had the best showcase of all, though, late in the set — “Can’t You Hear That Whistle Blow,” besides featuring some gnarly slap bass, also gave Smith a chance to show off his dead-on train whistle.

Johnson proved an amiable master of ceremonies, telling the stories behind the songs. The group did two numbers written by the late Harley Allen and both were highlights — “Indiana” soared with its soulful country drive, while “Me and John and Paul” was perhaps the most affecting number the group played this evening.

Things ended on a high note with “Sally Goodin,” another high-energy original that let Roberts and fiddler Jeremy Abshire (another MVP in a lineup full of them) a chance to tear through some of their most unhinged soloing of the evening. Roberts’ quoting of “Smoke on the Water” for a few bars was a nice touch, showing the sense of humor and camaraderie that was apparent throughout the entire evening.

Local stalwarts Ramblin Jug Stompers got the small crowd toe-tapping and grinning with their old timey jug music, and goofy demeanor. Their short set featured all manner of odd instruments, mostly played by percussionist extraordinaire Greg “Wild Bill” Haymes. Oddest of all was the typewriter he pulled out for “My Eggs Don’t Taste the Same Without You.” Best of all was the fleet-footed instrumental “Fry Pan Jack Enters into Heaven,” featuring interweaving pinch harmonics on guitar, banjo and mandolin.

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