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The Son and the Brother 8.2.17

Family ties are part of the fabric of American roots music. How often have we read (and for Pete’s sake how often have I written) that Artist X “came from a musical family”? The connection among siblings and the passing of ideas across generations might be the central reason this music sustains, and that in turn sustains us. Wednesday night offered up heart lifting performances by a first son of bluegrass and a first brother of Americana soul, plus a delightful country newcomer and a set by our own soul brother Jim Lauderdale.

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They call him Two, which is endearing, funny and accurate. Ralph Stanley II has adjusted to life after the long and remarkable reign of his father as the king of mountain bluegrass ended in 2016. And the dynamic that’s taken shape in the Clinch Mountain Boys is fascinating. Two is sober and serious, with a rich lead voice influenced by Carter Stanley and Keith Whitley. Meanwhile his youthful banjo player Alex Leach is a 1950s-style bluegrass yahoo who yips and hollers and generally keeps the energy zapping like a downed power line. Trust me, in bluegrass this is a mark of excellence. It’s how Jimmy Martin did it. And the music was righteous because of it. The tenor vocals from fiddler/mandolinist John Rigsby was magnificent. The legacy is in good hands.

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We don’t plum the pop side of country music too often at Roots not because pop-leaning country is necessarily bad (hey, what was Nickel Creek after all?), but it is harder to find the excellent. Catie Offerman brought a bright and body grooving set of songs that rode the line between the radio and the honky tonk. “Cheatin’ Myself” offered a sharp twist on an old theme. She pulled out her fiddle for the final two songs, including the venerable “Milk Cow Blues” and a really nice 6/8 ballad called “Make It Easy.” Or at least make it look easy, which Offerman does.

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Jim Lauderdale is Mr. Consistency. He’s written hundreds of strong, memorable melodies, but he keeps writing more. He’s conceived hundreds of sentiments in lyric form, and those keep coming too. “Sweet Time” was a song we’ve heard solo a few times in Jim’s show openers, but it sounded mighty fine with a full band and the steel guitar of Tommy Hannum. I loved the shake of “Don’t Shut Me Down” and the lush horns and easy sway of “Different Kind Of Groove.” The latter, plus “If I Can’t Resist” featured co-writer and walk-on surprise John Oates, which was stellar. Closer “You Came To Get Me” was both deeply funky and feather-light, a great accomplishment that would have made the STAX Records guys proud.

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We closed the night out with a quiet guru. Sherman Holmes has a zen calm approaching his music, but maybe if I had that commanding voice I would too. Holmes and a rather ad hoc but remarkable band featuring Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley mixed up the repertoire from pure gospel “I Want Jesus” to hippie rocker “Green River” to bluegrass with “White Dove.” The almost marching drum shuffle behind Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane” was a sharp refresh of a great song. The band jammed beautifully on “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” affirmed by Sherman’s craggy smiles. Jim came on to assist on the closer “Lost In The Lonesome Pines.” Sherman can sing just about anything, and he did so.

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