Kristin Scott Benson of The Grascals has been recognized among the top five-string artists for some time. The delightful Stringworks will only enhance that reputation. Unlike many albums by noted pickers, Stringworks distinguishes itself by including a balanced half-dozen each tunes and songs. The latter, in addition, feature a different outstanding lead vocalist on each one: Chris Jones, Claire Lynch, Shawn Lane, Terry Eldredge, Mickey Harris, and Grant Williams.
Lynch’s exquisite fragility finds new depths of feeling in singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler’s “When Fall Comes To New England.” As a friend of the late Whitey (Grant) and (Arval) Hogan, “Foggy Mountain Top” offers special meaning to me, but not nearly so much as to Kristin. The song samples intros and outros from a 1940s live show on Charlotte’s WBT by Whitey and Hogan, whose 66 years performing together has to be a record for country duos. Even better, she lifts the mandolin playing by Hogan, her grandfather who died in 2003, from that recording and uses it throughout the track.
The album launches out of the gate with an explosion of technique, drive, and speed (the latter two are different) called “Great Waterton,” one of four tunes that Benson wrote. The other two instrumentals are “Farewell Blues,” her homage to Earl Scruggs (who also inspired her composition “Fisher”), and an original provided by Bill Emerson, “Locust Grove.” The lineup of players prove as impressive as the singers, with husband Wayne Benson on mandolin, Cody Kilby playing guitar, Tim Surrett on bass, and Jim VanCleve and Adam Haynes sharing the fiddling. Spirited, original, and deep, Stringworks will assuredly rank among the best side projects by a member of a major bluegrass group for 2016. (Mountain Home, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)AM