Kickin' Up Dust

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Grasstowne was started by three bluegrass pros with extensive résumés: resonator guitarist Phil Leadbetter played with JD Crowe & the New South and Wildfire, guitarist Steve Gulley sang lead with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and Alan Bibey is known for both his splendid harmony vocals and blazing mandolin work. Bibey's listed in Mel Bay's The Greatest Mandolin Players of the Twentieth Century. After two albums that hit the top of the bluegrass charts, including The Road Headin' Home, which lodged three months in the number one spot, Leadbetter left, but the young replacements Bibey and Gulley found included Justin Jenkins on banjo, fiddler Adam Haynes, and standup bassman Kameron Keller, already known in bluegrass circles for his subtle, driving rhythms. The tunes here are split between gospel and more traditional bluegrass fare, and, like many modern bluegrass outfits, there's a hint of country music in the arrangements. Jenkins' bold banjo introduces the album-opener "Blue Rockin' Chair." Bibey sings a high lonesome lead on a tune that compacts several generations of a family's history into three poignant compact verses. "I Don't Worry About You Anymore" was written by Lambert Rogers, and the band gives it an old-fashioned country feel with Gulley and Bibey supplying wrenching harmonies as Jenkins and Bibey trade compact solos. Gulley and Bibey wrote "Vicksburg," a Civil War song that explores the horrors of war with a subtle lyric that's intensified by the mournful fiddling of Adam Haynes. The gospel tunes include Ronnie Bowman's "Old Time Way," a jubilant celebration of sunny Sundays and old-time religion, the folksy "Anchor in the Storm," a fervent profession of faith marked by the sanctified harmonies of Gulley and Bibey, and "Our Father," an a cappella take of a song made popular by the Golden Gate Quartet. The band's fervent, soaring harmonies make this the strongest vocal performance on the disc. Instrumentals include "Grass Stain," a bouncy dance tune, and "Up in the Wheelhouse," a midtempo workout that showcases Jenkins's banjo, the soulful fiddling of Adam Haynes, and Bibey's dazzling mandolin work, turning in solos marked by bluesy slurred notes and sizzling single-note runs.

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