Cover bands: the staple of many a bar or nightclub across the world. Some of them stay in a groove of their own making, some go on to become the bane of fans of the original band or bands, and some develop their own repertoire. Hayseed Dixie, those bluegrass wizards who first gained fame with their AC/DC covers (but you already guessed that from their name, right?), are working on door number three with their latest disc, A Hot Piece of Grass. But, for those fans of their rock-grass covers, no worries: half the album comes straight from a classic rock fan's playlist.
One thing that hasn't changed for HD is their virtuosity. The trio--PhD-packing vocalist John Wheeler and the brothers Reno, Dale and Don Jr.--pack a mean set of chops between them, and their intricate string arrangements and accomplished picking never falter. Listening to the boys duplicate the psychedelic intermission on "Whole Lotta Love" with fiddle and mandolin is almost worth the price of admission. Their take on "War Pigs" actually improves on the original, taking Black Sabbath's lyrical urgency and fusing it with a driving banjo line and a haunting fiddle solo near the end. Not all the songs boast as much arrangement work; "Black Dog" sounds surprisingly unchanged, and their cover of "Dueling Banjos" (an homage to the bluegrass master Don Reno Sr., Don Jr. and Dale's father) is a soundly traditional rendition.
None of the songs on Piece of Grass are weak, but even in a strong field, a few winners emerge. "Holiday" gets a string arrangement that evokes Green Day's style while maintaining a more thoughtful, almost mournful approach that leans on Dale's mandolin skills. The instrumental "Blind Beggar Breakdown" is a high-speed workout that will make you wish you could play like that (if you already can, congratulations), and "Marijuana" is an Appalachian tribute to the wacky weed that sounds like Wheeler was listening to the Champs before he went into the studio. Finally, for those looking for double entendres, "Moonshiner's Daughter" will fulfill your needs. If you're not already a fan, pick up A Hot Piece of Grass and try it.