Friday, March 25, 2011

Grasttowne - Kickin' Up Dust - CD Review

The latest CD from a reborn and strengthened Grasstowne uses the current road band on all cuts, a good decision on the part of partners Alan Bibey and Steve Gulley who remain at the core of this excellent band. “Kickin' Up Dust”, released by Rural Rhythm Records, exemplifies all the strengths this band brings to bluegrass music. As always in a Grasstowne recording, listeners can find Steve Gulley's soulful tenor voice and impeccable timing, as well as his frequently in demand harmonies, here employed in his own band. Alan Bibey remains one of the most elegant and tuneful mandolin stylists around. His mandolin style is distinctive enough to be recognized as Bibey style – smooth, articulate, and clear as glass.


Blue Rockin' Chair (Chris Stuart, Janet Beazley) is a sad story song set in the Louisiana lowlands, the world of sugar cane and share cropper cabins. The rockin' chair sits on the porch as floods and tribulations take the children away from an old man sitting and rocking while the world changes around him. Justin' Jenkins banjo sets the tone behind Alan Bibey's vocal, which captures the loneliness and desperation of the singer. The final notes, with Steve Gulley's harmony tell of the end of a way of life.

Grasstowne - Blue Rockin' Chair - Video

Up in the Wheelhouse is a Bibey original instrumental he wrote in California a few years ago with a title nod to the television show "The Deadliest Catch.” It opens with one of Alan's blinding mandolin solos, followed by breaks from Jenkins and Adam Haynes on fiddle. The song is a showcase for Bibey's unparralled skills, filled with slides and clear-as-a-bell hammer-ons. A characteristic of his picking is imagination and virtuosity that looks easy but captures sounds and effects other mandolin players can't even begin to come up with. While recognized three of the last five years at SPBGMA as mandolin player of the year, Bibey's virtuosity, style, and taste has somehow eluded the membership of IBMA when it comes to awards. Grass Stain is a delightful instrumental written by Adam Haynes in the style of Kenny Baker. The song gives Adam, a distinct and important addition to this band, the opportunity to shine on one of his own composition.

Alan Bibey

I Don't Worry About You Any More (Loren Rogers) takes a bow to Steve Gulley's Dad, a veteran of many years at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and the house band he played in there. This is a lost love song that hearkens back to the day when there was no bright line between bluegrass and country music, a time Grasstowne often celebrates in its music. Listen for Adam Haynes simple, yet elegant, fiddle break which epitomizes this earlier day. Justin Jenkins, one of the best Crowe-style banjo pickers around is delightful with his banjo backup in this one. Gulley's voice, as always, captures just the tone he wants to project in this song.

Adam Haynes

Kickin' Up Dust (Wes Golding) has waited ten years for Alan to record it, but it's a worthy song to be chosen as the title cut for this CD. “I might be a south freight/Headin' Georgia bound./You can hear my whistle blowin,/As I'm leavin' town./From the back of a fast horse/ Tenbrooks is his name/ Kickin' up dust, throwin' up gravel/ and hittin' that lost highway.” This is a new/old bluegrass “I'm Leavin' Town” tune with all the ingredients. Steve Gulley's voice captures the freedom and loss simultaneously while Justin Jenkins' banjo is always and insistently there. Often the real life experiences we see and hear about become the material for a song. Steve Gulley writes in the liner notes that Somewhere between Givin' In and Given' Up was inspired by a family matter. The experiences for the family may have been painful and difficult, but for the listener they create a haunting song about loss and pain.

Grasstowne - Kickin' Up Dust - Video

Ronnie Bowman and Craig Market, no mean song writing team, contributed Old Time Way to this project. The song recalls creekside baptisms, old time songs of praise, and “Sunday morning preachin' and prayin' in the old time way.” The song is just right for Alan's voice while Steve's harmony vocals accomplish their usual magic. Alan and Steve contribute their own new gospel song, too. Called Anchor in the Storm, it captures the sense that the Lord is there to provide support during the difficult times in life. The synergy between Bibey's lead and Gulley's harmony is good, and the song could contribute to the world of gospel songs. Father was first recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet in 1931. Steve Gulley, with his remarkable grasp of the range of available songs from a variety of traditions, sings lead in this acappella gospel song.

Steve Gulley

Another new/old song is Run by Alan Bibey and Steve Gulley. From the driving banjo kickoff through the blazing Gulley vocals and Alan's mandolin, the running of Tenbrooks, who appears again in this song, drives through the song. Some people keep running because that's the only way they think they won't get caught. Others seek to catch up, in either case, they run.

Justin Jenkins

Often the real life experiences we see and hear about become the material for a song. Steve Gulley writes in the liner notes that Somewhere between Givin' In and Given' Up was inspired by a family matter. The experiences for the family may have been painful and difficult, but for the listener they create a haunting song about loss and pain.

Kameron Keller

Vicksburg (Gulley & Bibey) is a Civil War song about a Confederate soldier riding to Vicksburg to provide help to the besieged soldiers in what would prove to be a hopeless effort to raise Grant's final siege after months of trying to capture this crucial Confederate stronghold. The song celebrates the courage of soldiers who were, essentially, starved into submission. The image of the rebel soldier refusing forever to accept a fifty dollar bill because of Grant's image on it is chilling. This song belongs in the catalog of great Civil War songs beside David Davis's version of Chancellorsville.

The CD concludes with a version of Jacob Landers/Vasser Clements song Waves of Sorrow which Alan first recorded many years ago. It's a solid bluegrass song giving all members of the band an opportunity to show their stuff, which is one of the genuine strengths of this recording.

Grasstowne - Waves of Sorrow - Video

Kickin' Up Dust is the best piece of work Grasstowne has produced. The CD contains five songs by Bibey and Gulley as well as one by Adam Haynes. Covers are well chosen from music long loved by one or the other of the principals. It was produced by Steve Gulley and Alan Bibey along with Wes Easter at Easter's studio and Alan Bibey's studio on Rural Rhythm Records. All songs on the CD are played by the current members of Grasstowne's touring band with no guest appearances. Both the instrumental and vocal work is of the high quality we've come to expect from both Alan and Steve. The addition of Justin Jenkins on banjo, one of the rising young Crowe-style banjo pickers, and Adam Haynes, who's played with some of the best, help forge a new and pleasing sound for this band. 

Steve Gulley & Alan Bibey