Click to hear: “Why You Been Gone So Long”
It’s humbling to contemplate how many notes Jerks of Grass have played over the years. Like counting stars on a clear country night, it’s impossible, an awe-inspiring thing.
After nearly a decade of weekly pub gigs, festivals, weddings and concerts (over 1,200 shows, by their count), the Jerks have finally released an album. Come on Home is a fine and true document of the best bluegrass band in town — 14 songs recorded live by studio ace Jonathan Wyman, with no overdubs.
The group has changed some over the years, but never sounded better or tighter. Original fiddler John Farrell passed away much too young years ago, bass player Tom Jacques has moved on, and mandolin wizard Ron “Ronnie G.” Gallant is playing in a new outfit called Cumberland Crossing. Founding members Jason Phelps (guitar and mandolin) and Carter Logan (banjo, dobro and guitar) anchor a band that includes bassist Kris Day (of King Memphis fame) and fiddler Melissa Bragdon. All but Bragdon, who sings backup, take turns singing lead, with Phelps the principal voice of the group.
There’s a good mix of material on this album, much of which will be familiar to Jerkaholics. They’ve been playing “Why You Been Gone So Long” and the Osborne Brothers’ “Big Spike Hammer” since the early days. It’s great to hear these numbers played so clearly, well mic’ed and without bar chatter in the background.
There are a few surprises, as well, like two down-tempo originals by Day: the title track and “Something.” Day rarely takes a turn at the mic during shows, but his soulful, countrified vocals reveal he’s been crooning for years.
The album begins with “Frank’s Reel,” a John McCusker composition with a distinctly Old World flavor — a nod to bluegrass’ roots in Irish, Scottish and English music. Bragdon’s fiddling on this track is top-notch, a clear message from the start that she can hold her own among the fellas.
That’s no small task. Phelps is astounding, as usual. A bluegrass convert raised on prog-rock, he shreds like Yngwie Malmsteen at a hoedown. Day is an ass-kicker on bass whose solos routinely drop jaws at gigs, and Logan, peerless in the state on banjo, handles the dobro with equal ease. Newgrass cuts like Béla Fleck’s “Stomping Grounds” and traditional rippers like Flatt & Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Special” give everyone a chance to amaze.
Here’s to another galaxy worth of great homegrown bluegrass!
— Chris Busby
Jerks of Grass play two back-to-back CD release shows on Sat., July 26, at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland. The 6 p.m. dinner show features Come on Home in its entirety. Tix: $7-$10 (under 21 admitted with guardian). The 9 p.m. evening show features special guests. Tix: $5-$8 (21+). 879-8988.