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Daniel Grindstaff Releases “Child of the King” (feat. Jeff Tolbert)

Daniel Grindstaff’s new single with guest vocalist Jeff Tolbert entitled “Child of the King” is one of the finest collaborations featured on his forthcoming Heroes & Friends release. Grindstaff has built much of his career on collaborative efforts, and Heroes & Friends promises to be his most fulfilling foray yet in that vein. It doesn’t confine itself to arch-purist bluegrass, but “Child of the King” does traffic in tradition. Gospel has a close relationship with the bluegrass genre as frequent fodder for many of the style’s most legendary tunes.

“Child of the King” hails from the prolific and famed pen of Cindy Walker. Walker, responsible for many classic country songs, is a seldom recognized figure in modern country circles. However, aficionados of the form will recognize her name and contributions. Her work with “Child of the King” is full of distinctive trademarks; lines seemingly cut in granite without a single needless word, a near poetic command of language, and well-crafted refrains that linger in the memory.

Jeff Tolbert is a superb interpreter of the material. His deep and abiding faith makes this tune an excellent choice, and he shows almost reverential respect for the song’s message. He tailors his voice to follow the rise and fall of Walker’s conversational poetry while eschewing any melodramatic flourishes that might befall lesser singers. Many listeners will be enamored of how he communicates his spiritual strength through this song. Traditional vocal harmonies add another appealing layer to the performance.

Grindstaff’s accompaniment is clean and unadorned. He doesn’t go in for overly showy demonstrations of his banjo playing. His aim is to flesh out the song without covering it with loads of meaningless tinsel and flash. Steady and skillful banjo playing strengthens this performance, and the other instruments, fiddle in particular, put the spotlight on the song’s beguiling melody. There’s no need to rely on gimmicks to make this song soar. Play it as intended, invest the desired feeling into each second, and the song’s rewards are bountiful.

Three-plus minutes is a satisfying running time for those rewards. You may wish that they would go on longer. The concision of the arrangement and vocal performance illustrates the intense focus that Grindstaff and Tolbert bring to the outing. They tackle this song with a clear mandate for its success and never deviate from that trajectory. This isn’t a paint-by-numbers artistic experience for either performer, and they approach the song as if they have one chance to get it right. They don’t intend to squander that opportunity.

You should not squander the chance to hear it as soon as possible. Music such as this is increasingly scant in our modern world, but Tolbert and Grindstaff are doing their part to ensure its voice is never still. They breathe newfound life into a venerable classic without ever imitating their predecessors and show the potential to win over the most ardent naysayers. Daniel Grindstaff and Jeff Tolbert’s “Child of the King” is that good and leaves you wanting more.

Troy Johnstone

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