Cathleen Norman wrote the Pikes Peak Breakdown column for Pow’r Pickin’ 2009-2016. She recently moved from Palmer Lake to Colorado Springs’ West Side neighborhood, home to Grass It Up and also bluegrass venue, Front Range Barbeque. Borrowed Time proved to be the perfect sound track during this relocation.
Grass It Up have released their sixth CD, Borrowed Time, recorded live at the Western Jubilee Warehouse, an intimate performance venue/recording studio in downtown Colorado Springs. Playing the Colorado Springs area since 2006, the band features David Jeffrey’s lively mandolin and lead vocals, Shannon T. Carr’s nimble guitar picking and tender tenor harmonies, Jim Marsh’s robust vocals and blazing banjo, and Jeffry Siegel’s top notch fiddling. Jon Bross lays down the backbone on the stick bass. Borrowed Time is recorded, mixed and mastered by Bill Douglass and Royal Recording. The album offers up 12 songs, consisting of eight originals, two covers and a couple traditional tunes. The four songs written by band founder and leader Jeffrey feature straightforward instrumentals with thought-provoking lyrics—“Save One Soul,” “Crazy Town” and “Keep Up with You.” The album’s cover song insists, “We are all living on borrowed time” and is guaranteed to strike a chord in your heart and put a lump in your throat. The four instrumental numbers written by Marsh showcase the impeccable picking prowess that the band is known for—“Spaghetti Western,” “Striper’s Nightmare,” “Manitou Breakdown” and “Over the Hill.” A contemporary cover, Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” is an ode to the southern homeland of three of the band’s musicians and how “the sweetest winds, they blow across the South.” A lickety-split version of Stephen Hartsfield’s murder ballad “Nadine” makes its appearance, as does the perpetual audience pleaser “Cluck Old Hen.” The recording closes with a barnburner medley of “Reuben’s Train/Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” Appropriate for the Pikes Peak region where Americana abounds, the band’s style strays toward newgrass rather than pure grass—compelling lyrics about contemporary topics interwoven with creative bluegrass instrumentation. As Jeffrey puts it, “we are not abandoning bluegrass but refashioning it into this string band thing.” Grass It Up gain their staying power from a unique mix of self-written songs, traditional bluegrass tunes and “grassed up” covers. Some of this creativity comes from Jeffrey, Carr and Bross each performing in genres such as rock, jazz and funk before forming the band and devoting themselves to bluegrass. Jeffrey, Carr and Marsh had previously played bluegrass extensively in their joint home state of Alabama before moving to Colorado. Jeffrey explains why they selected these 12 songs from the 30 performed at Western Jubilee Warehouse that evening: “It could have been all folk or mostly bluegrass. We wanted a variety of instrumentals and vocal tunes, a variety of different sounds and tempos. We put a little bit more deliberate effort into shaping the sound of the songs.” Jeffrey explains Grass It Up’s longevity as “an evolving story of growth and being able to stand out. It takes such an effort to create your presence. On Borrowed Time, we’ve come along a little further.” Grass It Up are represented by Scott O’Malley and Western Jubilee Recording Company, LLC, which booked them for the September 13-17, Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. The Western Jubilee Warehouse stage again hosts the band on September 7 for a pre-Winfield show.