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Being Complimentary

Like a meal in four courses that compliment but don’t overlap, Wednesday’s Roots delivered exquisite versions of four stages of country music evolution. From the sturdy and often elegant string band sound of Tim O’Brien we hyped things up a bit to a (drumless) electric honky tonk vibe with Greg Garing. Chelle Rose, East Tennessee’s answer to Townes Van Zandt, delivered literate, narrative-heavy songs with drums and measures of grungy power. And while less twangy or bluesy than the rest of the flight, Allen Thompson showed us the chemistry that results from a band of friends singing well-crafted songs that march along in classic Americana fashion. It was the first show of a blazing July, but it was a wry heat.

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You just never heard a peppier song about alcoholism and death than the Bailes Brothers “Drunkard’s Grave.” Actually, I think it was Tim O’Brien from whom I first heard the wise observation that bluegrass is full of happy sounding tragedy. We were made most happy by the band Tim brought, featuring the outstanding fiddle (Stuart Duncan) and banjo (Noam Pikelny) players of their generations. MCR MVP Mike Bub drove the bass bottom line while Jan Fabricius sang sweet harmony, sounding especially locked in with Tim on the waltz “Guardian Angel.” The set closer “Windy Mountain” was a perfect balance of swift tempo and loose groove. These are masters of one of the core Americana genres.

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We in this field hear a lot of fellows with a retro mindset and retro voice and retro clothes, and many of them are quite good. But so many also pale in intensity and presence when compared to the enigmatic Greg Garing. Tall and wiry like Iggy Pop, he’s always had a bit of a haunted look, but also a glint in his eye and a tight relationship with his band, in this case a five piece proto honky tonk ensemble with fiddle, mandolin and arch top electric guitar. Garing’s delivery of the drinking song “Store Bought Liquor” and the Delmore Brothers-sounding “Far Across The Sea” was twitchy and fevered but utterly centered and potent. “Am I Even A Memory” was a song written (by him) for and covered by Wanda Jackson, and it became the title track of Garing’s 2016 album. We’ll never forget Garing on Roots, and we promise it’ll happen again.

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More deep country authenticity followed as Chelle Rose took the stage with her electric rhythm section and her gorgeous, flowing East Tennessee drawl. The haunting edge of her vocals and her well chosen storyteller’s details explain why she’s compared to Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier. “Blue Ridge Blood” is distilled family lore. “Southern 4501” was a train song that came to her in a dream. Closer “Rufus Morgan” had strong Southern rock leanings with riffy power (provided by guitarist Sergio Webb) and rough grungy edges.

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It occurs to me that I’ve only ever seen the Allen Thompson Band indoors, whereas they seem born to play during the golden hour amid long shadows at a badass mountain music festival. Anyway I always imagine that setting when they take the stage and Allen’s bare feet help complete the illusion. The title track of the new Brace Yourself album is catchy and bouncy with lyrics that are partly about falling in love and partly about falling literally. Do both with caution. Allen said they were working with a sub keyboard player on this evening, but Rob Crowell provided some of my favorite moments and textures of the set with his stripped down organ. “Dirt To Dust” is a jammy classic and “Seasick” saw Allen sing against Clint Maine’s acoustic guitar to great effect. These guys are a super-complete band who’ve put the Back in Comeback.

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 26TH

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Hosted By Peter Cooper

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