As any musician knows, it's a fine line walking between widespread popularity and career integrity. However, bluegrass favorites the Grascals are one of the few bands out there who've been able to enjoy the best of both worlds--critical and popular acclaim (they've won numerous awards in the bluegrass arena, as well as two Grammy nominations and one Dove Award nomination), while still remaining musically undiluted.
The band is taking this favorable position even further with the upcoming release of its newest album, The Grascals & Friends--Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin, which features guest appearances with country-music friends old and new. Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, Darryl Worley, Joe Nichols and the Oak Ridge Boys all join in on the album, performing familiar classics "with a touch of grass" that will delight fans of all stripes of country as well as serious bluegrass aficionados.
It's quite a genius mix which will undoubtedly ease an even wider audience into the charms of the bluegrass genre. One of the more memorable collaborations on the album is the original bonus track, "I Am Strong"--a song which was inspired by the band's visit to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, where they met some of the children in treatment and experienced first-hand their bravery and strength. The song features all the guest stars on the album; and the video provides a uplifting appearance by Dolly Parton as well as cameos of real patients from the hospital.
Caveat: It is a tearjerker. You've been warned. But please do grab your box of Kleenex and watch. You'll be glad you did.
By the way, a portion of proceeds from the new album will go to benefit St. Jude's. The CD is available exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old County Store locations and CrackerBarrel.com starting on January 10--so be sure to pick one up!
Grascals banjo player Kristin Scott Benson--herself the recipient of three awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association--took a few minutes out of her Christmas shopping and holiday preparations to chat about the new record with Our Country.
Our Country: Can you tell us which of the collaborations on the new album is your personal favorite?
KSB: You could say something about every person on the record. The reason the album means so much to us is because we have such great relationships with these people. One of my favorites on the album is "[The Year That] Clayton Delaney [Died]." We're big Tom T. hall fans, and we've also gotten to be friends with him--and that's a treat in itself. But the bigger treat was he's retired, and it's really hard to get him to record. So we felt extra blessed that he'd come sing with us. And "Clayton Delaney" is such a cool song.
OC: What I think is especially cool is the age mix of country artists you picked to collaborate with. You have some of the edgiest modern country artists on the album as well as incredible classic performers.
KSB: It's fortunate for us. [Grascals guitarists] Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson were really good friends with Joe Nichols and Dierks Bentley before they got their record deals--before they turned into who they are today. It never hurts to have old friends who have become really successful! It's really cool of them to come out and play with us. The truth is, a lot of country artists love bluegrass. And that works to our advantage, because they get a chance to do something different, they like being part of something that's a little different, and being bluegrass fans it caters to their tastes.
OC: One thing I did notice is that you seem to have very few female artist collaborations on this collection. As a woman yourself, did you personally want to see more women on the album?
KSB: It does seem a little lopsided, but a lot of that just has to do with the fact that the female artists we asked weren't available. A lot of who ended up on the album was dictated by schedules. I know that we sent some lines out to a lot of female artists and would have loved to have them do it, but heard back from their camps that they were just too busy or in a crunch. The release date for the record got moved up from what we originally thought it would be, and we ran out of time, and that affected the schedule as well.
OC: Country music has made great strides in popularity in the past few years, going from a more isolated audience to--basically at this point--mainstream. Do you see this ever happening with bluegrass as a genre?
KSB: Nobody really knows! You can't predict the future. My personal opinion is that bluegrass is always going to have kind of a cult, underworld following. And some of the best music, it seems, always falls into that category. It's hard to appeal to the masses and be true artistically to what you like, if you're not willing to compromise. As a genre, I think bluegrass would have to compromise to become more accessible and mainstream. One of the things this album does is it kind of blends a couple different movements to make it more appealing to someone who doesn't have an acquired taste for bluegrass yet. The goal is that it leads them to the next record, which might be a little more pure. That's the ultimate success story we'd like to see.
Thanks for chatting with us, Kristin! Merry Christmas, and looking forward to picking up the new album in January!
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