Who says bluegrass players cannot honky-tonk? Obviously, nobody ever told The Grascals ‘No.’ Granted, Keep on Walkin’ contains more than just tear in your beer material. But some of this 12-song release’s best songs are obvious tavern top ten candidates, and that’s a good thing.
A cover of “Choices”, previously made famous by George Jones, is not an obvious choice -- so to speak. It’s not obvious because most folks think of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and other older material when it comes to the greatest in Jones country. But this Billy Yates/Mike Curtis number was included on Jones’ relatively recent Cold Hard Truth album, released in 1999. Yet it perfectly summarizes the wrongheaded lifestyle of honky-tonk nighttime men. “I like drinkin’/And I never turned it down.” These words also described the old Jones, too. Thankfully, however, this ain’t him now. He’s finally making right choices.
Although “Choices” is a bit of a wild card selection, if you will, this release also includes a few undeniable classics. One of these is Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”. Sung over little more than acoustic guitar and piano, The Grascals sadly harmonize the lyric to this addicted love song. I say addicted love song because the woman this man loves is like a drug. Or you could say it’s like someone who cannot quit drinking, no matter how hard they try. They’re destined to love this heart-breaking woman, for life. When The Grascals sing, “I got over you just long enough to let my heartaches mend,” you realize this is a lyric of sad resolution: This man will forever love this woman, no matter what she does to him.
This same sort of half-blind commitment can also be found on “The Only Daddy That Will Walk The Line”. In this case, however, he’s the stable one and she’s the wild child. It’s a little strange to hear someone other than Waylon Jennings – with that deep, dark singing voice of his – performing the song. It’s also odd not to hear that distinctive Jennings rhythmic guitar sound. But the use mandolin for that main lick gives the tune a swing it never had before, which makes this version a breath of fresh air.
This studio work’s title track, “Keep On Walkin’”, speaks of taking life one day at a time. “Keep it steady as I go/And live each day as if it were the last,” it says at one point. This seems to be the motto of many bluegrass greats, when you stop and think about it, because those boys seem to live forever. Just look at Ralph Stanley; he’s been going for more years than can be easily calculated.
A version of “Happy Go Lucky”, which is one of the bluegrass-iest cuts on the disc – especially because of its upfront banjo -- presents the polar opposite perspective from “Choices”. In this instance, the singer is a smoking, drinking, gambling, and happy son of a gun. But “Happy Go Lucky” is the kind of song you sing when you’re out drinking with your friends and feeling fine. “Choices”, on the other hand, is what you sing – very quietly -- sober and with a headache the next morning.
This consistently good CD closes with a softly swaying version of “Farther Along”. If we keep on walking the straight and narrow, with the patience and persistence prescribed during “Keep On Walkin’”, we’ll ultimately reach that “Farther Along” point where we’ll understand the twists and turns of our life path a bit better. And with Keep On Walkin’, The Grascals have given us a one fine aural travelogue help us on that trip.