If I had to choose one word to describe the Grascals' new album, Before Breakfast, and the band's sound in general, it would be "polished." This is expertly played, top-of-their-game bluegrass, with every proverbial I dotted and T crossed. But there's a problem with laying a bit too much sheen on music like this: it loses the immediacy, the risk-taking, exploratory excitement that made Bill Monroe's pioneering genre so magical.
The material is a mixed bag. Right out of the gate, the album features a few overly schlocky numbers, like "Sleepin' with the Reaper," a Christian infidelity song that lays it on a bit too thickly, despite fine vocals by newest band member John Bryan. Later tracks are better, with "Lost and Lonesome" sticking close to tradition, and the real highlight of the album, "Lynchburg Chicken Run," doing about everything you could ask for in a bluegrass instrumental tune.
Fans of the band will find lots to like about this solid recording. But there's something to be said for getting back to basics, taking more chances, and knowing when to leave the music a bit rougher around the edges. (Mountain Home Music Company)