To everything there is a season, the saying goes, and for Wayne and Kristin Scott Benson, the time has come — not to abandon the successful musical ventures they’ve been involved in for years, but to add a new one: their first truly collaborative effort under their own name. Already, the mandolin- and banjo-wielding couple have released four successful singles, and now they’re proud to release their first full-length project for Mountain Home Music Company, Pick Your Poison.
The album is the first full-length collection from the label to be released in Dolby Atmos spatial audio, a sound experience you can feel all around you. Familiar from its “surround sound” application in thousands of movie theaters” Dolby Atmos reveals “depth, clarity and details like never before,” and can be streamed on Apple Music, Amazon Music and TIDAL.
Wayne Benson, long-time mandolinist for Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and a sought-after session player and teacher, recounts the genesis of the album: “COVID changed a lot of things for musicians and not all of them were bad. I don't think we would have ever recorded this album, if we had just kept moving along normally, but COVID created some opportunities. For us, we thought the chance to record together with the downtime would be a good idea.”
Adds Kristin, the veteran banjo player for the Grascals and the recipient of five International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year awards as well as the prestigious Steve Martin Prize, “We're 22 years into our marriage, and this is our first joint effort musically, so it was a fun, new venture. Mickey Gamble at Mountain Home encouraged us to do this and we're so glad we did. It's yet another blessing, and we're very thankful for the opportunity.”
The couple made the most of the opportunity, bringing together an assortment of friends and colleagues to tackle a set list that reflects the breadth of their friendships, their musical interests — and of the whole group’s talents. Reaching back to Kristin’s early days, they tapped one-time bandmates Cody Kilby (Travelin’ McCourys) on guitar and Mickey Harris (Rhonda Vincent & The Rage) on both lead and harmony vocals, long-time friends Jamie Johnson (vocals), Jim VanCleve (fiddle) and Jon Weisberger (bass), as well as more recent members of their circle in singers Grayson Lane and Heath Williams, bassist Paul Watson (Carley Arrowood Band) and ace drummer Tony Creasman.
Those who don’t know the Bensons might expect the two instrumentalists to focus on hot picking and flashy licks, but the couple’s artistic depth and maturity took them in a different direction. There are, indeed, a few of tasty instrumental numbers written by Wayne — a straight ahead bluegrass workout titled "The Fest Of Rudy,” a funky “Conway” and a dreamily melodic “Riverside” — but the bulk of Pick Your Poison finds the Bensons putting their talents in the service of a joint sensibility that dishes up more than a couple of surprises. There’s plenty of nothing-but-bluegrass, of course — the current radio single and opening song “Icy Cold,” drawn from the repertoire of Mickey Harris’ uncle, Carl Tipton, and second single “What Kind Of Fool Are You?” both sung by Lane, and Harris’ blistering take on “Red Mountain Wine” — but there’s room, too, for Johnson’s plaintive rendering of The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun,” as well as Williams’ head-turning leads on an early 80s Crystal Gayle hit, “Living In These Troubled Times,” Christian singer-songwriter Matthew West’s “Oh Me Of Little Faith” and an early 90s Bryan White cut, “Look At Me Now.”
Yet whether the selection is right in the bluegrass groove or reaches into other musical realms, the duo and their supporting cast give it a reading that is at once sensitive and confident — a sure sign of their interpretive mastery and years of thoughtful artistry. Taken as a whole, Pick Your Poison both summarizes the winding paths that have brought them to this moment and points in a multitude of directions for further exploration.
“We're really proud of how this album turned out,” says Kristin. “The players and singers did an outstanding job and the roster mainly consists of longtime friends.”
Adds Wayne, “This record is a nice mixture of us, musically. It isn't exactly what Kristin would do or what I would do. I'm glad we documented a collaboration between the two of us.”
Listen to Pick Your Poison HERE.
Benson is a collaborative effort between two of bluegrass music's most treasured instrumentalists: Wayne and Kristin Scott Benson. With decades of experience in top-tier bands, both have established themselves as stalwarts in the community. After years of paving separate musical paths, the two finally decided it was time to integrate their identities and create something new together. Benson is their first combined effort, despite having been married for over 20 years.
Wayne Benson is a 25-year veteran of the seven-time IBMA Vocal Group of the Year, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out. He is on the short list of mandolin players who have signature models with Gibson Musical Instruments.
Kristin Scott Benson is a five-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year and recipient of the Steve Martin Award for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo. She has been a member of the GRAMMY-nominated Grascals since 2008.