Comedian Steve Martin likes to say you can’t help but be happy when you hear a banjo, even on a sad song. That can apply, as well, to the latest recording from The Grascals. Listening to any of their 13 tracks and coming away without a positive feeling is impossible. Even when the subject is one of those standard crying-in-your beer songs, such as the slow, George Jones-like country of “Honky Tonk Lullaby,” or the equally slow country tale of a man who asks the “Bartender” to set out two glasses so he can have a drink with a woman who won’t be joining him, you can’t help but smile.
Song choice has a lot to do with this. Not a one of them uses a modal-sounding, edgy form. The Grascals have chosen a different path, one with major-sounding melodies. Instead of an edge, there is the bright, positive lilt of “Life Finds A Way,” their cover of the Elvis hit “Mystery Train,” the heart-on-the-sleeve sentimental love song to “Pretty Melody,” and the “Baby Blue Eyes”-like bounce and melody of “You Can Mark It Down,” a breakup song that doesn’t leave you feeling like the guy is whining or in angst.
Song choice is, however only part of it. Equally important is the buoyant playing and singing the band brings from start to finish. Jamie Johnson and Terry Eldredge provide the sunny and clear lead vocals that paired with the equally sunny and clear instrumental work of Kristin Benson, Danny Roberts, Jeremy Abshire and Terry Smith, make listening to these songs such an uplifting experience, be it their cover of Harley Allen’s song about what messages we send to the next generation, “Pass It On,” or their fine reading of the James Taylor lullaby, “Sweet Baby James.” It’s all good and all positive and with its mix of traditional bluegrass, pop and country, colored here and there by drums and pedal steel, should have broad appeal. (Crossroads Music, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704 www.crossroadsmusic.com.)BW