When a show opens with one of the most energetic, skilled bands in the world roaring through “El Cumbanchero” at full tilt, it’s a pretty good sign that some special other somethings are waiting in the wings. And while show closer Darrell Scott didn’t have the strength of numbers, he has his fingers and his voice, and that was enough to assure everyone in the Loveless Barn that they were in the hands of a master. I was surprised actually that our fearless and always astute producers lined the show up that way, but it turned out having energy at the top was a great idea.
That energy came from the Greencards, that eclectic acoustic power supply from Australia, whose two most recent additions, fiddler Tyler Andal and guitarist Jake Stargel have given leader/founders Kym Warner and Carol Young all the fiery support they could ever ask for. The band kicked its set off with a shot of Irish coffee, a tune I don’t have a title for but that would have been a good tune for lasses dancing on tables in a beer hall. And then that venerable spaghetti western of a tune “El Cumbanchero” let everyone show off their instrumental chops. Best though was the title track to the ‘cards most recent album “Fascination,” with its reggae-styled mando chop and its lovely turning melody. It shows as well as anything how this band has used bluegrass as a leaping off point for expression of true musical imagination. (They should have bragged about this last night, but the band was featured earlier in the day on NPR’s music site! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123771922)
The middle of the show was more on the sweet side, which is funny because both came from New York, perhaps not the first stop on the tour of Sweet America. Anyway, vintagely dapper Rebecca Pronsky offered up clear-voiced and cleanly written songs with a nice spare electric guitar backup. “Big City” proved a nice, swaying audience participation number. She’s on her way to Memphis for Folk Alliance, and we hope she makes a splash there. That was followed by the full-tilt fiddle-driven swing of the Sweetback Sisters, a six-piece of three men and three women who are cultivating their own take on honky-tonk music. They brought a heavy train beat to “Walking In My Sleep” and they were sharp enough to cover Hazel Dickens’s feminist hillbilly anthem “Don’t Put Her Down.” Strong yodeling decorated “I Want To Be A Real Cowboy Girl,” and they left the audience feeling great with “Feeling Bad.”
And that left a clear stage for the imposing presence of a lone Darrell Scott. Fans of his knew what was coming – the stunning voice, the smart but accessible songs. But it was great fun to stand in the audience and have a woman poke me and say “WHAT’S his name?” followed by “I’m in heaven!” I left Darrell’s newest fan to come unglued by herself and took a seat on the front row. I should do this more often. Scott’s song “Colorado” (from a 20-song double disc coming this May) washed over me and filled my head with imagery and a Western aura. Scott’s weathered baritone never sounded so deep and rich to me – full of tone and full of truth. Then he donned a groovy new baritone guitar and went into a slow, spooky version of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” with a holy smoke guitar solo that proved he didn’t need no stinkin’ band.
Scott closed his set with a tune I’d asked him about in our interview, the celebrator “Great Day To Be Alive.” And the brilliant thing about Scott is he’ll never do a song the same way twice. His version built layers on top of the radio take that led to a chart-topping hit for Travis Tritt with lovely chord substitutions and color tones. He has that effortless quality that makes us mere guitar playing/singing mortals both discouraged and empowered. There must be a path to this kind of insight, one thinks. In any event, as a show featuring the best in Americana, we were honor-bound to have the Greencards and Darrell at some point. To have them on the same show made it a great day indeed.