A match made in heaven
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 08, 2011 | 1944 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Grascals, a bluegrass band who was named Entertainer of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association for two years in a row, recently released a CD that includes collaborations with country music legends such as Charlie Daniels and Tom T. Hall. Photo special to the Eagle
The Grascals, a bluegrass band who was named Entertainer of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association for two years in a row, recently released a CD that includes collaborations with country music legends such as Charlie Daniels and Tom T. Hall. Photo special to the Eagle
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Most country music fans have not heard of The Grascals, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 2006 and 2007. However, many are familiar with the songs and guest singers on the band’s new CD.

“The Grascals & Friends: Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin” has a track list that includes “Tiger by the Tail,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “White Lightning.” The old-time tunes are given a modern twist by the likes of Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and Darryl Worley, respectively.

Several legends remade their own songs for the album.

The Grascals collaborated with Charlie Daniels on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Tom T. Hall came out of retirement to work with them on his former No. 1 tune “The Year that Clayton Delaney Died,” and Dolly Parton sings “Pain of Lovin’ You,” which she co-wrote with Porter Wagoner.

The record is available exclusively at Cracker Barrel. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Band member Kristin Scott Benson said the number of Nashville stars on the new CD shouldn’t be a surprise for the group’s fans.

“One thing that differentiates The Grascals from other bluegrass bands is our country connections,” Benson said.

Parton gave the band its big break when she asked it to record and tour with her in 2004. Last year, they traveled with Hank Williams Jr.’s “Rowdy Friends” tour.

Benson counts among her friends Sonny Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, a fellow banjo player who recommended her for the job with The Grascals.

Grascals vocalists Terry Eldredge and Terry Smith both spent some time in the Osborne Brothers band.

Benson played with singer-songwriter Larry Cordle and the Larry Stephenson Band before joining The Grascals two years ago.

She won the IBMA Banjo Player of the Year award in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Benson said that she was excited but also a little anxious when she replaced Aaron McDaris in the band in 2008.

“The speeds this band plays at made me nervous in the beginning. They’re known for playing exceptionally fast,” she said.

The highlight of the new album, however, is a tear-jerker called “I Am Strong.” The song was written by Grascals guitarist Jamie Johnson along with his wife and a friend after a visit to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Johnson noticed a “thought wall” that allowed children to complete a sentence that began with “I am.” Some of the patients selected words such as “nauseated” and “homesick.”

One boy wrote “strong,” which inspired the song.

Two versions of “I Am Strong” appear on “The Grascals & Friends” CD. The first features the band with Parton and 3-year-old cancer patient Ansley McLaurin.

The second is a bonus track that includes vocals from Parton, Worley, Daniels, Hall, Joe Nichols, The Oak Ridge Boys, Terri Clark, Steven Seagal and Randy Owen.

The video, which was filmed at St. Jude’s, is available on YouTube.

Benson said that it wasn’t difficult to get some of country’s biggest stars to be included on The Grascals’ latest CD.

“Most of these cool artists who have done very well for themselves in the country genre love bluegrass. So they’re usually willing to be a part of an album that puts them in a bluegrass setting,” Benson said.

Some of the musicians who worked on “The Grascals & Friends” have had their own bluegrass projects in recent years.

Parton, for example, released three bluegrass albums between 1999 and 2002. Bentley’s latest record, “Up on the Ridge,” has a bluegrass influence as well.

Benson said that she is proud to be associated with all of the artists and also of the partnership with Cracker Barrel.

“Cracker Barrel represents the same characteristics that the typical bluegrass audience embodies. They value the same things — family, time around the table and a slower pace of life that is so hard to maintain in our busy society,” Benson said.