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Grass Cats - Desperate Times (CD, 2004)

by Joe Ross, 04/05/2004

Grass Cats

I’m big on The Grass Cats. In fact, I named their last release, “The Blues are Back in Town” as among my favorties of 2003. From North Carolina, this bluegrass quintet plays and sings with catlike grace. And unlike many bluegrass bands early in their careers, they have maintained stability among their personnel with Greg Miller (guitar), Tim Woodall (banjo), Chris Hill (fiddle), Russell Johnson (mandolin), and Robin Burke (bass). Zack McLamb guests on bass. Besides their excellent instrumental skill, equally impressive is that the band includes four lead vocalists (all
but Chris). Before joining the Cats, Chris Hill spent six years performing with Al Batten and the Bluegrass Reunion.

The Grass Cats’ varied musical approach also pulls material from many sources. Miller does the most lead singing – five tracks. He previously played with “Moe and The Grass.” Miller’s strong baritone voice is a mainstay of The Grass Cats’ sound. Tim Woodall mainly provides harmony vocals, but he sings lead on “Teardrops in my Eyes” and “More Pretty Girls Than One,” a couple bluegrass warhorses that are oft-played. Woodall is a Dee-Jay for WQDR’s Pinecone Bluegrass Show from Raleigh, N.C. For a couple decades, Tim’s five-string has enhanced the sound of his band “Patchwork.”

Robin Burke sings lead on Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” the heart-tugging “I Know a Heartache,” as well as the band’s songwriting collaboration, “Somebody New.” For the past six years, she has played with the Southern Gospel group, Kindred Hearts, and she toured Switzerland in
2000 with Kickin' Grass.

Formerly with New Vintage, Russell Johnson offers his distinctive high lonesome lead singing on four songs. An accomplished songwriter, Johnson’s had a number of songs reach the Bluegrass Unlimited National Bluegrass Survey, and he was nominated for SPBGMA’s 2003 Songwriter of the Year. The opener on this project, “Your Only Friend,” has a bluesy feel, and the Russell Johnson composition with Greg’s lead singing is reminiscent of a Johnson Mountain Boys’ sound with Dudley Connell. Another original, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” is a waltz-time tale of a drinking man coming home to a letter on the door with the hook, “if you don’t think it’s over, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The Grass Cats really shine on those contemporary numbers with moderate tempo like Larry Hamilton’s “I Know It’s Not Me.” That might be one of my favorites on the CD.

The Cats have been together since 1997, and their fourth album, “Desperate Times,” is another workmanlike presentation from a highly proficient and professional band whose strengths include good material, arrangements, vocals and instrumental work. (Joe Ross)

1. Your Only Friend
2. Weary Lonesome Broken Hearted
3. Desperate Times
4. It Doesn't Matter Anymore
5. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
6. Down The Road I Go
7. I Know A Heartache
8. I Bought The Shoes That ust Walked Out On Me
9. I Know It's Not Me
10. Teardrops In My Eyes
11. More Pretty Girls Than One
12. Somebody New
13. Searching For A Rainbow

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