Entertaining and wide-ranging, at least across its eight original songs.
Despite a band name that sounds like a crappy local country cover outfit, The Kickin' Grass Band's fourth album Walk With Me is an assured and confident mixture of bluegrass and Americana originals and, yes, a handful of covers. Guitarist Lynda Dawson writes the majority of the originals here, and her she has an ear for a catchy melody as well as interesting turns of phrase. The rollicking "Gum Stump Squirrel" is full of Dawson's musings and contains the out-of-nowhere couplet "How do you think our comrades up in the space station / Feel about our shuttle program coming to an end?" Elsewhere Dawson tackles more traditional Americana subjects such as the death of a loved one ("No One Can Live Forever") and spirituality ("Walk With Me").
While Dawson's voice and songs are the backbone of the band, nearly everyone gets the chance to shine somewhere on the album. Mandolinist Jamie Dawson turns in a strong, weary-sounding performance as a gas station employee on "The Filling Station". The band sounds more like a classic country group when bassist Patrick Walsh and fiddler Pattie Hopkins sing the lead on songs like "Ghosts in My Head" and "That's What I Like About the South". Even banjo player Hank Smith gets the spotlight on "31", an instrumental track excerpted from a longer banjo concerto.
The Kickin' Grass Band seems to loosen up on the album's second half, which contains five different cover songs from artists ranging from Bill Monroe to Patty Griffin. Although they seem to be having a lot of fun on these songs, they aren't nearly as distinctive as the group's originals. Walk With Me, with four vocalists and two in-house songwriters, already covers a lot of ground in its seven originals, and adding five additional songwriters into the mix shifts the album's focus significantly. What could've been a sterling, wide-ranging effort from the band becomes more like a strong, interesting compilation than a proper album.