Album Review: The Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band – ‘Roots Of My Raising’
October 10, 2013
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Fiddler-singer Clinton Gregory grew up in rural Virginia, and played bluegrass locally as a child prodigy. Now, after last year’s delightful reminder of his talent as a straight country singer, he has returned to that first love and formed a bluegrass band, naturally taking fiddle (and acoustic guitar) duties and lead vocals himself. This album showcases this new direction with a mixture of bluegrass and country classics, all delivered in traditional bluegrass style with the less traditional but attractive addition of a harmonica on a number of tracks. The band plays brilliantly throughout, but it is the vocals which stand out. There is a good range of tempos, and producers Jamie Creasy and Scott Vestal do a fine job. The album was actually released a few months ago, but has only just come my way.
The mainly up-tempo bluegrass songs are well played with solid harmonies and excellent instrumental work, but it is not unfair to note that Clinton brings little that is really new to songs like ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’ which have been done so many times before, perhaps because the fast pace does not allow for as much emotional input as the country songs included, which are mostly ballads. They are nonetheless enjoyable tracks, thanks to solid musicianship and Clinton’s thoughtful vocals, brisk on ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’, sincere on ‘Little Cabin Home On The Hill’, and high lonesome on the slower ‘Dark Hollow’. A nicely sung take on Flatt & Scruggs’ plaintive ‘Somehow Tonight’ was my favorite of the bluegrass chestnuts. There is also a sparkling instrumental on traditional fiddle tune ‘Katy Hill’.
Giving country songs a bluegrass makeover is much more successful, and I really loved all these tracks, notwithstanding the songs’ familiarity. Three of them are Merle Haggard songs. I loved Clinton’s understated and faintly melancholy version of the title track, which he manages to make sound like his own experiences – quite an achievement for such a personal song. It works perfectly in a bluegrass setting (with added harmonica). ‘Looking For A Place To Fall Apart’ has an acoustic country rather than bluegrass feel, but is quite lovely, with Clinton’s lonesome fiddle supporting his dejected vocal. I wasn’t familiar with the third Haggard song, ‘Living With The Shades Pulled Down’, which has a rather odd lyric about a man in love with a prostitute, but it made for a solid banjo-led up-tempo bluegrass number.
An intimate, deeply sad version of ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ is very fine, and I also loved Clinton’s beautifully measured vocal on ‘New Patches’. He closes with an original religious song, the somber and heartfelt ‘Crucifixion’.
This may not get as much attention as Alan Jackson’s bluegrass album, but it is an excellent record with great appeal for country and bluegrass fans.