Prime Cuts: Haggard, What God Looks Like, They Laughed
Overall Grade: 4.75/5
Too often bluegrass albums are too single-minded for their own good. In an effort to express technical virtuosity, many artists have placed so much emphasis on the speed and execution of the instruments that they forget about the quality of the songs. Thus, many bluegrass songs sound like bullet trains trying to make it to the finish line in record time without manifesting much personalities. Such a fallacy has been wisely avoided by the Grascals on their latest Mountain Home Music effort "Straighten the Curves." The pride of this new record is that the band has taken the time to choose their songs. They have cast their nets wide enough that they have even extend beyond their own genre to include some country material, some Gospel tunes, and a sparkling instrumental.
"Straighten the Curves" is the sextet's much anticipated followup to their 2017's #1 Bluegrass album "Before Breakfast." The album is already preceded by the #1 track "Heartbreak Hall of Fame" - an explication of unrequited love told with great creativity and vividness. Despite the album's titular, the band does throw a few unexpected curved balls with this release. Who would have thought a song about the life of a dog "Haggard" is so affectionate that it's fast becoming one of their signature tunes? The lilting melody and the wistful lyrics truly bring out the animal lover in us.
They also show an aptitude for adventure when they choose to bluegrassify the late Eddie Rabbitt's #1 country hit "Driving My Life Away." Removing the cheesy 80s-sounding synth from the original, Grascals' version brings out the urgency inherent in the song. As with every record, the Grascals have always indulged in a few Christian songs, and this album is no exception. Best among them is the ballad "They Laughed." Stringing together narratives of how people who have been frowned at by the world with the story of how many have rejected Christ, "They Laughed" wisely anchors our worth in Christ.
Another heart warmer is "What Does God Look Like" - nuanced from the perspective of an inquisitive child, she brings to her daddy a litany of questions of what God is like. The song is ultimately sobering reminder that our children's perception of the Father is contingent upon our witnesses and testimonies. More visceral moments come with the country-sounding "Don't Leave Your Memory Behind." Not to be missed is the old time sounding "The Shepherd of My Valley"; this song is instantaneously catchy with some heavenly sounding finger-picking banjo licks to boot.
The Grascals have worked long and hard not only to create an album rife with great technical virtuoso but they have taken the extra effort to find songs that touch the heart and drives the feet. Songs that are easy to hum too yet deep enough to make us reflective. This album is a rare find in bluegrass music.