Grasstowne enters a new era with its third release. Two of the band’s original members—resonator guitarist Phil Leadbetter and banjoist Jason Davis—have left the band.
For the first time, there will be no resonator guitar player, and long-time fans may find themselves waiting for breaks that never appear. Fortunately, Steve Gulley’s strong, emotional voice and Alan Bibey’s bright, propulsive mandolin work remain, and those two key signatures of the band’s sound should keep those same fans content. Joining Gulley and Bibey are new members Justin Jenkins on banjo, Kameron Keller on bass, and Adam Haynes on fiddle.
Two instrumentals, four originals from Bibey and Gulley, a couple of newly-written songs, and four covers make up the recording’s twelve songs. Three of the songs are gospel tunes, including one of the album’s highlights, “Old Time Way,” written by Ronnie Bowman and Craig Market. On that one, the writers and the band have captured the classic sound of the mandolin/guitar brother duo on a song featuring a forward-moving melody and a set of simple, indelible images. They don’t come much better.
The album opens with the slow-to-medium pulse of “Blue Rocking Chair” on which the chair in question survives a flood to become the symbol of a heritage abandoned. The refrain, And it rocks my children are gone, is irresistable. Later, comes the medium-tempo grind of the cover of Wes Golding’s title tune with its “get-out-of-town” theme. On the fast end is Bibey and Gulley’s “Run,” on which each verse relates to running, whether it’s horse races, men on the lam, or away from a youth ill-spent. All three are standout cuts as is the silky and bluesy harmony of the vocal gospel quartet “Our Father.”
Members come and go, sounds change, and new eras begin, but any recording with Gulley and Bibey, who choose the songs and direct the sound, will always be worth a recommendation. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D., Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) BW