Grassland String Band is a fine example of the recent uprising of acoustic Americana music. They’re cleaner than Old Crow Medicine show, less polished than the Punch Brothers. They’re less traditional than the Steep Canyon Rangers, but moreso than the Avett Brothers. Basically, they fit nicely in the middle of the folk/bluegrass spectrum right around Tramples By Turtles and not far from The Infamous Stringdusters. There’s not much that you couldn’t hear at a good southern bluegrass festival most summer weekends, but at the same time, there’s not a single song that won’t have you stomping your feet or clapping your hands.
It’s quite obvious that each of these musicians is ridiculously talented. You have to be to play this kind of music because there is nothing to hide behind. It’s raw and pure. The recording definitely does justice to that. The banjo picking is fast, the vocals are tight, and the fiddle is enthusiastic.
The opening track “Clara” gets everything off to a toe-tapping start. I can imagine the audience at a show dancing along to this one and cheering for each of the solos in the interludes. The a cappella sections and the multi-part harmonies are so full and powerful. I don’t know who this girl Clara is, but she ought to be really impressed by this song, especially the dynamic violin melodies and the sweet lyrics.
Another one of my favorites is “Honey,” another simple love song complemented by the violin solos. It almost feels like the violin is having a conversation with the singer. Like an old Beatles song, it’s very short and sweet and it leaves you wanting more. Great production.
“If I Die” grabs your attention right away with the gritty vocals and the harsh instrumental stops right out of the gate. I love the lines “I’m so old/I’m so young/I wonder when my heart will let go of my tongue.” The shouts, the high notes at the end, and the exciting banjo line in the chorus make the song so much fun. But at under two minutes, I wish there were more!
“Driving This Car” features a female vocalist and a much slower tempo than the rest of the album. It’s a lovely song and is well performed, but it doesn’t feel like it fits in the context of the rest of the songs. Maybe if she sang some more high harmonies on the other songs it wouldn’t feel out of place. But it was a nice surprise to hear a different voice in the mix, and she brings a lot of interesting melodies to table.
Overall, “Before The Feast” is a really solid album that really reflects a lot of the folk music that’s so popular right now. They could play at a bluegrass festival, a country bar or a rock club and make everyone happy with their high level of talent and energy. Go see them live at their upcoming shows in Athens, Ga. and make sure to look out for this album. You won’t want to miss it.
(Ansley Rushing is a 2012 Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Georgia Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in Public Relations. She also participated in the UGA Music Business Program in the Terry College of Business and served an internship with Paste Magazine, a nationally recognized leader in entertainment news. Ansley is a classically trained violinist and an Athens, GA based singer/songwriter. More about Ansley Rushing)