Album Review of
On The Short Rows

Written by Joe Ross
August 18, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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The five musicians who kick grass on this project include Ben Walters (banjo), Patrick Walsh (bass), Matt Hooper (fiddle), Lynda Wittig Dawson (guitar), and Jamie Dawson (mandolin). Akin to their song and the "Pot Liquor" that remains after boiling a large kettle of collard greens, Kickin Grass fuses their old-time and bluegrass sensibilities in a simmering cauldron of healthful and nourishing music. The band formed to accompany the Apple Chill Cloggers in Chapel Hill, while Walsh was using pickup musicians for gigs under the Kickin Grass band name. Lynda was enlisted to bring some powerful original material and vocalizing to the collaboration. From Alabama, banjo-player Ben Walters was found studying linguistics and music at UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolinan Matt Hooper had studied classical violin and played with a country band called Dakota Rain. In fact, Lynda also played with a country roadhouse group called The Kydells, and they have an invigorating, lively bluegrass sound that also taps into their understanding of folk, old-time and country music. Their first album was called "Backroads," recorded with the $2,000 prize for being named the 2003 Best Band In Raleigh competition. 

Songs on this 43-minute project include 1- Lay Down Your Weary Load, 2- On The Short Rows, 3- Cloverleaf, 4- Dear Sarah, 5- Change Your Mind, 6- Molly, 7- Fairest Rose, 8- When My Days Are Full Of Sorrow, 9- Pot Liquor, 10- Hello It's Me, 11- Rock Island Line, 12- Ain't Got Nothin', 13- Grandfather's Clock 

The set on this, their second album, incorporates considerable dynamism, and their large body of original material is a definite strength. At times on the faster numbers, they push and challenge their instrumental abilities. Also, their best lead vocals are presented by Lynda, on her original country numbers like the title cut, "Ain't Got Nothin'," and "Change Your Mind." Those songs are the memorable ones and characterize Kickin Grass' signature sound, especially with Rick Keen's guest dobro-playing. The seductive "When My Days Are Full of Sorrow" was wisely arranged with guest Gil McNeill's clawhammer banjo. "Molly" demonstrates Lynda's ability with a mysterious, lofty, uptempo number. Jamie's and Patricks' lead vocals are pleasant enough but nothing special, but they work on a novelty number like Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line" or those with a hook like "On the Short Rows." The album also has faster pieces such as "Fairest Rose," "Dear Sarah," "Hello It's Me" and the instrumental "Pot Liquor." 

On an impulse, the band picked up a 32-foot long shuttle bus off Ebay for $4,000, and they hit the road. After the bus' transmission went out a month later, the rig was sold. Despite hasty decisions like that, Kickin Grass shows that they've put considerable thought into their music. With a little more attention to detail, they'll be ready for trips even further afield from their North Carolina home. They're serious about their music and want to introduce it to new audiences. They just plan to be who they are, be true to themselves, and to keep at it. Like family, they enjoy each other's company, and that will work in their favor. (Joe Ross)