The Grascals' core -- lead vocalist, fiddler, and mandolin player Jamie Johnson, guitarist Terry Eldredge, bass and guitar player Terry Smith, and guitar and mandolin player Danny Roberts -- all knew each other as polished sidemen and formed the Grascals to step out front and grab some of the limelight themselves. When Dolly Parton heard the band laying down tracks for their self-titled debut, she hired them to be her backing band. Her vocals on their first single, a bluegrass version of "Viva Las Vegas," helped the song debut at number three on the country charts and earned them an invitation to play the Grand Ol' Opry. The band continues to confound expectations on The Famous Lefty Flynn's by opening the album with a blazing cover of the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville." The track features tasty solos from the two new Grascals, Kristin Scott Benson, IMBA Banjo Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009, and fiddler Jeremy Abshire. More traditional cover tunes include the Osborne Brothers oldies "Son of a Sawmill Man" and "Up This Hill and Down." "Sawmill Man" is played at the same breakneck tempo that the Osbornes used with Benson, Danny Roberts and Abshire pulling out all the stops on their solos, while "Up This Hill" has a bluesy ragtime feel and the band's trademark harmonies. Hank Williams, Jr. contributes his rough and rowdy vocals to his dad's "I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome" to complement the band's three-part harmonies. The Grascals step out as songwriters with three solid originals. "Blue Rock Slide" starts out sounding like a traditional mountain tune, just banjo, mandolin, and fiddle playing high lonesome notes before the rest of the band comes in and kicks up the tempo. The title tune is a midtempo prison song full of wry humor, in which the Famous Lefty Flynn gives his cellmate a crash course in crime before he gets shot down during an escape attempt. Johnson's vocal on "My Baby's Waiting on the Other Side" is full of passion and yearning, and lifted to a state of grace by brilliant solos by Abshire, Benson, Eldredge, and Roberts.
AllMusic Review by j. poet