Few genres in the American musical lexicon are as instantly identifiable as bluegrass. The strings, the words, and even the delivery of the harmonies that carry them – every component of a bluegrass song is placed there to do one thing, and that is to resonate with the spirit of the American soul. This is precisely why Daniel Grindstaff’s new cover of “Forever Young” feels like the refreshing slice of heaven that it does this September; around every turn in this track, we’re asked to abandon inhibitions and embrace the sonic push of the music, which isn’t usually the case with most contemporary country. Between Grindstaff and his collaborators in the one and only Dolly Parton and Paul Brewster, you know this is going to be one for the books.
The old-school elements in “Forever Young” are just about impossible to miss, but there’s nothing about the construction of this hook that makes me think Grindstaff wasn’t trying to make an homage to the classics here. There’s no point in rejecting the notion that he wasn’t listening to Rod’s cut when he structured the beat in this song, that much is obvious, but the actual melodic ribbonry is far more Americana than it is anything from the old guard, at least from an aesthetical point of view. This is a good mixture of iconic and ironically modern, which is always a winner in my book.
I dig how Grindstaff uses the rhythm to build a lot of tension as we get into the second half of “Forever Young,” and overall, his conceptualism as a songwriter is a progressive attitude that I would be interested in seeing some of his peers adopt. He isn’t hiding behind any synthetic elements in place of generating real, honest catharsis with his words and music in this song, and as sad as it is for me to admit as a critic, that makes his performance and that of Parton and Brewster in this single diamonds in the rough.
The main verse in this song has a lot more oomph than it needed, but I suppose it makes sense when taking into account how beefy virtually every part of this single is. Grindstaff is an artist who loves sonic virtuosity a lot more than he does technological sophistication, and while some might see no problem in utilizing the latter to produce more of the former, this is one artist who appears to pride himself on being more of a purist than that situation would allow for.
Bluegrass lovers young and old alike needn’t look any further for fun in the summer sun than “Forever Young” this month, and if you haven’t already, I’d recommend exploring the larger discography of Daniel Grindstaff in general. He’s still finding his way into the spotlight, but for how much he’s accomplished this year alone, I think we can assume that he isn’t going to let this present momentum slow down for anything. “Forever Young” is an excellent measurement of his artistic legitimacy given the guest artists featured, and from where I sit, it solidifies his place as a bluegrass player you need to be paying attention to right now.