Back to Lodi...Grascals, 1946, Paisley and Stuff
Terry Eldredge (Dave Talbot in the background)
It was another good year at Lodi, NY for Pickin' in the Pasture, one of the best little traditional bluegrass festivals around. From the moment I arrived I sensed the friendly camaraderie of the staff and the way all the performers felt at ease on this working sheep farm. Maybe it's because the festival is held at Andy, Susan & Jesse's house, with performers eating meals at their dining room table, using their bathroom, and well, just making themselves to home. One of the first things I glimpsed as I eased my truck into a spot was an open wagon with a team of horses driven by an Amish man and his two boys. The wagon was loaded with frest fruit and vegetables and homemade breads, cakes and cookies...and it was headed for the festival grounds. I became a happy customer and bit into the best corn and tomatoes of the season. Saturday morning was a sheep shearing demonstration that was very well attended. It's not every day most city slickers get to see a sheep shorn.
The incredible lead singing of Terry Eldredge is something well-known to any bluegrass fan worth his salt, and I think Terry and the amazing Grascals are about to become known to a whole lot more folks around the world. Tomorrow they officially release their 2nd project, "Long List of Heartaches," and it's bound to be rocketing toward the stratosphere just any minute now. I was one of the lucky ones: I got my advance copy at Pickin' in the Pasture. It hasn't left the CD player yet. In case you don't know about the Grascals, you need to. They've got it all. Terry Eldredge has long been one of my very favorite singers (especially on country songs); nobody sings those sad honky tonk songs better than Terry. Jamie Johnson is also an excellent high lead and tenor singer and Dave Talbot rounds out their quartet with his steady baritone. In Terry Smith and Jamie Johnson they have two great songwriters, and all the boys can pick with the best of them (and have!) They're good-looking and they're savvy as well. The boys had the smarts to autograph all their new CDs before selling them, thus saving a lot of confusion and extra hubbub around their record table after their sets. As it was the line was about 10 deep all the way around, but a lot of folks came away from the table with a great new recording and big grins across their faces. I like it that the Grascals are still selling their CDs for $15.
After listening to this project a few times I decided I'd try to pick my favorite song and realized that I simply couldn't. There are so many great songs on here and the talents of all the Grascals shine through all 13 songs, from Candy Randolph's "Home" through Steve Wariner/Harley Allen's "Hoedown in Motown." There are a few songs most country/bluegrass fans will know and a few great new songs. I particularly like Harley Allen's "Being Me" (does Harley ever write a poor song?) partly because of Dierks Bentley's rich baritone vocal and okay, my favorite cut is "Don't Tell Mama." It's plum pitiful and it doesn't get any better than the incomparable lead vocals of Terry Eldredge on a sad country song coupled with a recitation by his hero, George Jones. Get ready! Jamie Johnson, Dave Talbot and Terry Smith all contribute their own brilliant vocal touches to this must-have CD. I love it, buy it!
Mickey Boles and David Peterson sing like brothers. It's flat magical, and their sets at Pickin' in the Pasture were riveting. Though they each have very animated faces (a photographer's dream) more importantly they have expressive voices (not quite as obvious in this photo). Check these boys out. It didn't hurt their sound a bit to have banjo whiz Charlie Cushman driving the five and Mike Bub rounding out that big bass boom. Had a nice chat with each of the boys and have been listening to their latest CD, "In the Mountaintops to Roam," for the last two days (alternating it with the Grascals). Fine, fine. You can't beat their harmony -- and Mike Compton, the world's best mandolin player, plays on 13 of the 14 cuts. I know lots of folks don't like it when Nashville's finest do the studio session and then you hear someone else at shows out on the road. But I gotta tell you that this is one fine CD with 1946 regulars Charlie Cushman on banjo, Boles singing tenor and former bassman Kent Blanton laying the groundwork and a wealth of the finest Nashville fiddlers: Casey Driessen, Michael Cleveland, Aubrey Haynie, Buddy Spicher, and Stuart Duncan swapping turns on the devil's box. Good ole Rob Ickes adds his brilliant dobro touch and my favorite bass singer in the world, Shelton Feazell, underlines the low notes on "Prayin' Shoes." I just love the way Compton picks that "Red Rockin' Chair." And David Peterson is becoming one fine songwriter. But anyway, I didn't miss all those great Nashville pickers who were on the CD but not on the road with Peterson - because those vocals are SO good and they're so interesting to watch and well, it's just a _great_ show.
I remember when I first heard Dave many years ago on Christmas day up at Terry Eldredge's mom and dad's. They used to open their home to all of us Nashville orphans who were away from home on Christmas and didn't we eat! Mary and Bud are both great cooks - and used to cooking for masses of people - and we had some of the finest eating, laughing, and picking on those Christmas Days at the Eldredge's. Dave came there that first time and I remember my jaw dropping to the ground when he started singing Stanley Brothers songs one after another. He had one of the finest voices I've ever heard in that vein, and you know I still firmly believe that. Peterson is a singer to be reckoned with! Pair him up with Mickey Boles and you have a duet that is wonderful to listen to and brilliant to watch!
I could rave on but I need to talk about some other things, so suffice it to say that this 1946 CD is going to enjoy a regular spot in the rotation on my 900-mile drive to Illinois. I have thousands of CDs. 'Nuff said. The Grascals will be about wore out, too, before September.
The Paisleys, Lundys and Eldreth as usual did not disappoint. I was treated to four fine sets of in-your-bloody-face bluegrass, thank you. Hard hitting soul music. If I remember correctly the Paisley bunch have the distinction of playing at all 9 Pickin' in the Pastures, and I understand they've been invited back next year. Since I half broke my left ankle in a woodchuck hole on Friday morning I wasn't able to get out and about and drag my knuckles through the campground in the wee hours of Saturday morning, but I understand the Paisley bunch and Andy Alexander and a few others had a right good time out there till the sun was thinking about making another appearance.
Better put the wrap on this rambling and get my bags packed for the next trip. Haven't decided whether to head to Thomas Point Beach - or to Illinois. I'll end up somewhere.