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Close To The Fest

It’s not as easy to go to Merlefest as it used to be in my footloose, sleeping-on-the-ground-is-fine days. So it’s wonderful to annually have a mini-Merlefest of our own at Music City Roots. The sampling of Merle-bound artists always refreshes and always seems to spotlight the very best of progressive traditional music. This week’s heavily attended show was no exception.

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I was shocked to discover that it’s been almost three years since Front Country made its MCR debut and now that they live in the area I hope we can feature them more frequently. The quintet keeps growing in intricacy and daring, and we heard songs from the new Other Love Songs album that proved it. “Lonesome Town” has lusty drive. There was a blazing instrumental by mandolinist Adam Roszkiewicz that got the crowd totally involved. Melody Walker’s voice was super sharp in the quirky, catchy “I Don’t Wanna Die Angry.” Jacob Groopman lent a John Hartford dry read to David Olney’s “Millionaire.” It had murder in it!

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The Stray Birds opened with the radio hit (at least at WMOT) “Sabrina,” with it’s Louisiana pulse and celebratory harmonies. That was a Maya de Vitry lead vocal but she quickly handed off to Oliver Craven who sang beautifully on the slower “Heavy Hands. The final two songs with Craven on electric guitar were full bodied and fully jam enabled. The standing ovation came easily.

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The silky baritone of Chris Jones is a great foil for the precise and driving banjo of Gina Clowes and the high momentum bass of Jon Weisberger. Opener “Range Road 53” whisked along with the hearty chop of mandolinist Mark Stoffel on the backbeats. Then they re-mixed the classic “Dark Hollow” with new tempos and feelings. Chris invited fiddler and singer Jeremy Garrett of the Infamous Stringdusters on stage for a guest turn on a couple of songs as well.

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Sam Bush and his crack band know how to modulate a set, whether its two hours or a half hour, as was the case here. Some nice instrumental swirl gave way to the Celtic melodic theme and flowing groove of “Play By Your Own Rules.” The themes and ideas in “Transcendental Meditation Blues” were sophisticated while remaining in bluegrass terrain. The instrumental “Greenbriar” by Sam and banjo master Scott Vestal was a stellar jam-portunity that all the guys took advantage of, complete with some Jerry Garcia style chromatic skittering by guitarist Stephen Mougin. Closer “I Just Wanna Feel Something” was, said Sam, and ode to jamming. And really the whole set felt that way.

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Hosted By Jim Lauderdale



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