Rating: BMy introduction to the Jerks of Grass was at the inaugural Saddleback Mountain Bluegrass Festival earlier this month. I was impressed with their energy and music virtuosity and picked up their CD.
How does their live act translate to disc? The musical skill is definitely on display. Two Bela Fleck tunes, "Stomping Grounds," and "Big Country," showcase the impressive pickers. Kris Day's bass dueling with Jason Phelps' guitar in "Stomping Grounds" is particularly noteworthy. There aren't too many bass players skilled enough to play solos on record. Phelps slips between guitar and mandolin, while Carter Logan alternates between five-string banjo, dobro, and guitar. The variety of instruments gives the band a full sound even with only four members; the fourth, Melissa Bragdon, plays fiddle throughout.
The album does hit a couple flat notes. While the group shines during up-tempo tunes like "Foggy Mountain Special" and "Why You Been Gone So Long," slow change-of-pace tune "Come On Home" feels dull, failing to match Day's strong voice. The other vocalists sometimes leave a bit to be desired; Phelps takes the high tunes and Logan the low ones, and while they make it work it isn't the quartet's strong suit. Probably the harshest criticism is that while the album is good and entertaining throughout, there's no one moment that really stands out as extraordinary.
The group is at its best in the several instrumental tunes on Come On Home. Whether led by Bragdon's fiddle in slow and sentimental "Tennessee Waltz," by Phelps' mandolin in the fast, melodic "In The House of Tom Bombadil," or by Logan's banjo in the spacious, mellow "Big Country," the Jerks love to throw their technical skill around. Is it ever transcendent? Probably not, but it's a lot of fun.
Buy it from Amazon:
Come On Home
Jerks of Grass Official Site