Pick Your Poison
Kristin Scott Benson, long-time banjo player for The Grascals and five-time winner of the IBMA’s “Banjo Player of the Year” award, and Wayne Benson, long-time mandolin player for Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, have been married 22 years. Yet this is their very first album-length collaboration.
To the Bensons’ credit, this is not a duet outing. Rather, it’s a gathering of friends and favored musicians in what is in every way a collaboration, a band effort. The Benson’s, who coproduced Pick Your Poison, more or less anchor the proceedings while letting everyone have a chance to shine. And shine, they do.
No fewer than four outstanding singers provide lead vocals on various tracks. These are: Grascals cofounder Jamie Johnson, Heath Williams, Grayson Lane, and Mickey Harris (long-time veteran of Rhonda Vincent’s band, The Rage). Tim Surrett also serves up some fine harmonies. This in itself provides some subtle stylistic shifts from one cut to the next.
Then there are the songs. There are three delightful Wayne Benson-composed instrumentals: the free-wheeling, jazzy “Conway,” the plaintive “Riverside” and the jaunty, rollicking “Fest of Rudy.” (I don’t know who the heck Rudy is, but it sure sounds like he had a real good time!)
The opener, “Icy Cold” (written by Martha Haislip) is a poignant reminiscence with a haunting vocal by Lane. “Look at Me Now” (penned by Derek George, John Tirro and Bryan White and first popularized by White some years back) features a compelling lead vocal by Williams.
“What Kind of Fool Are You?” (Becky Buller-J. Tony Rockley) once again features Lane on vocals. It’s a dramatic and somewhat embittered look at all the different ways someone can be misled in love.
On the gospel side, there’s Matthew West’s “Oh Me of Little Faith.” It’s a powerful testimonial of a man who’s astonished and over-awed by God’s abiding love. At the worldlier end of the spectrum is a reprise of Cajun country-rocker and former Flying Burrito Brother Floyd “Gib” Guilbeau’s rambling, carousing celebration, “Red Mountain Wine.”
Yet another standout is a soaring acoustic version of Lennon & McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun.” The spectacular way this lineup reimagines this Beatles hit of yore demonstrates what masters they are.