Youthful Kentucky Talent on Full Display

Grass It Up! (Music Man)
Kentucky Sassafras

By Bob Mitchell

Look out! The bluegrass kids from Kentucky are at it again with the release of their sophomore recording, an energetic and finely tuned project that displays increased confidence and maturity. There may be other young bands in the state but since I am not aware of them, I will declare, unequivocally, Kentucky Sassafras is the best youth band in the commonwealth.

Mandolinist Turner Hutchens, 11, is the youngest member. His cousin, Jory Hutchens, 15, contributes exciting fiddle work and the lead vocal on "Seminole Wind." Tyler Mullins, 14, displays astonishing banjo technique for one so young. His lead and rhythm guitar work is also noteworthy. Chloe Blayne, 16, provides exhilarating banjo (three-finger and clawhammer), robust guitar, steadfast bass and seven of eight lead vocals. Guests on this project are Chloe's mother, Kim Samuel, on bass and Jory's father, Patrick Hutchens, on guitar. Their contributions are solid yet they allow the spotlight to shine brightest on the children.

I've seen the band in concert and they work as hard as any adult band. This past summer when another band was not ready to perform during a local festival, Sassafras handled the situation like professionals by staying on stage and playing until the other band was ready. And they worked just as hard on this latest recording.

Chloe remains the band's centerpiece with her winning smile and heartfelt vocals. Track highlights include her energetic vocal and banjo on "Muleskinner Blues," a sensitive rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home" (with interesting tempo changes) and her plaintive arrangements of "Wayfaring Stranger," and "Angel Band." She also contributes her first original song, "Shallow Hearts." In this song, a hauntingly lonesome melody and well crafted verses tell the story of a woman who cannot see beyond a man's wealth and a man who cannot see beyond the woman's outer beauty. As a result, their "shallow hearts" prevent them from finding love, peace and happiness.

Tyler cuts loose on an outstanding pedal-to-the-metal "Foggy Mountain Special." I especially enjoyed Jory's bow work on "Jerusalem Ridge," and Turner's hard-driving mandolin chops on "Sledd Ridin'."

It does a heart good to see and hear a group of youngsters like Kentucky Sassafras. The excellent cover photograph also graphically captures the youthful enthusiasm of four youngsters determined to take bluegrass further into the 21st century. So if your heart could use a dose of happiness and optimism, latch onto a copy of "Grass It Up."

For more information, check out www.kysassafras.com.