Wondrous ‘Walk With Me’
As a band performing for the first time at MerleFest this past spring, the Kickin Grass Band had to pay some freshman dues.
The band played all four days of the festival, including a number of shows at the new entrance stage, serenading audience members as they bought their tickets and had their backpacks frisked.
Lead singer Lynda Dawson even helped with the media interview tent, serving as a liaison between the stars and us nosy newspaper types.
The members of the Kickin Grass Band took their MerleFest hazing in stride, in part because the band has seen its share of ups and downs that would make any hard work at the festival pale in comparison.
Bassist Patrick Walsh experienced the death of his wife after a battle with ovarian cancer, and mandolin player Jamie Dawson suffered through the sudden and unexpected death of his brother.
“These were life-altering events for all of us, both individually and as band-mates and close friends,” Lynda Dawson said. “We felt strongly that we needed to capture and express the emotional journey we had endured through our music, especially now that we’re on the other side looking back.”
The experiences — both highs and lows — of the past three years are captured in the Kickin Grass Band’s new album, “Walk With Me.” It’s a fine disc that’s drenched in tradition, while breathtaking in its originality.
The Kickin Grass Band is reminiscent of other new bands, such as Railroad Earth and Hoots and Helmouth, in that it can play in a traditional bluegrass style, but makes the style its own by adding elements of other genres.
On the decidedly-not-bluegrass “The Filling Station,” the banjo and fiddle are augmented by a bluesy electric organ, played by guest musician Andrew Martin. The song, sung by Jamie Dawson, sounds like it would be more at home on a Jim White or Tom Waits album than on a bluegrass disc.
But it is immediately followed by “Gum Stump Squirrel,” a tune with a timeless fiddle line that sounds as if it could’ve been written 50 years ago — if not for the line about NASA’s shuttle program coming to an end.
Lynda Dawson serves as the chief songwriter and lead singer on approximately half of the new songs on the new album, and it’s her voice that gives the album its emotional core. Fiddler Pattie Hopkins sings lead on “Walk With Me” and the classic old rave-up “That’s What I Like About the South.” Other covers on the album include Joe Henry’s “King’s Highway,” Patty Griffin’s “Long Ride Home,” Alton Delmore’s “Blue Railroad Train” and Bill Monroe’s hard-driving instrumental nugget, “Roanoke.”
While “Walk With Me” definitely has its roots in bluegrass, folk and old-time music, there are definitely touches of modern Americana, especially on the haunting “Ghosts in My Head,” sung by Walsh, “Filling Station” and the intricate, almost classical instrumental, “Thirty One.”
The album closes with the powerful ballad, “Everything and Everyone.” Lynda Dawson appears to be asking questions of a long-gone relative, while thinking about her own baby daughter’s future: “Now I see you in everything, in the summer and in the spring. And I see you in everyone, a life that’s ended and one begun.”
Even though “Walk With Me” deals with some of the bigger questions of life and death, it never gets bogged down or depressing. Conversely, it leaves the listener inspired.
Said Katrina Lamberto of Superfan Records, “To take in the album as a singular experience is to travel with the group from a questioning uncertainty to an understanding acceptance. The message: The big answers may be beyond our grasp, but our communal search for them binds us together. If you look hard enough you may just find an answer — and a comfort — in the people who walk with you.”
For more information, visit http://www.kickingrass.com.