The Grascals, Keep On Walkin'
The third disc from the award-winning Grascals has a slightly more traditional sound than some of their earlier arrangements, partly because of the addition of Aaron McDarris's banjo to the regular lineup. Precision playing is expected from a top bluegrass band, but having toured together for years now, the group sounds not only technically tight but also soulful and smooth.
"Indiana," a gentle original, has a tuneful lyricism, while a thoroughbred version of "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms" and a reverent cover of George Jones's "Choices" nod to the past. So does "Today I Started Loving You Again," a Merle Haggard tune that shows off the band's great harmonies and feel for old-fashioned country. It's a nice break from "pure" bluegrass, as is Harley Allen's antiwar ballad "Remembering."
With players this good, there is a risk that a studio recording will feel technically perfect and cold. Fortunately, the Grascals mostly avoid this, by, among other things, smart song choices, which include some cornpone silliness at the top ("Feeling Blue") and the bottom ("Happy Go Lucky"). Guest vocals from Vince Gill ("Sad Wind Sighs") never hurt anyone. And you might even tear up listening to lead singer Jamie Johnson's original "Keep On Walkin'."
V-Project, New Machine
This CD isn't very well produced. It's rock, but with fake drums. And it has a cheesy cover design. Yet it stuck out among the much better sounding discs in this week's pile because of the lack of sameness and the sheer fun of it. A little GnR, a little Steve Miller, a little hair-band rock, it's essentially a solo project of the talented songwriter and guitarist David Vaccaro, with notable help from an excellent vocalist named Robin McAuley. Catchy choruses, an obvious love for 70s and 80s rock sounds (and Steve Miller style harmonies), and an infectious sense of fun make this an unlikely standout.