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Odd pairing of Nugent, Hand make for fine music

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., August 31, 2006

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The pairing of bluegrass singer Alecia Nugent and Texas honky tonker James Hand had almost zero in common at the outset except that both are on the same record label, Rounder, which put the bill together.

By the end of the evening, it was clear that Nugent, a Louisiana native, and Hand shared something else in common the ability to turn in quite fine sets of music.

Nugent may be quite a pretty face, but if that was the sum of her "talents," she wouldn't be worth listening to. While she started off slightly flat on the opening "Too Good to Be True" from there, it was all smooth sailing from there.

Nugent is stepped in bluegrass though she broadens her sound to country influences where with a slight change in instrumentation, she would be a country singer.

One of the highlights was "A Dozen White Roses," a song written by her producer Carl Jackson after visiting bluegrass great Jimmy Martin on his deathbed.

Nugent was aided by a very strong backing band though from the length of time they have been together, no one would have thought it would have proven possible. For banjo player Thomas Wywrot, this was his first gig ever with Nugent. Mandolinist Ashy Frank, who was quite fine, is two weeks in with Nugent.

Fortunately, all the pieces fit together to make for a commendable 70-minute set.

Hand, also making his Boston debut, is an anomaly. He is hitting his mid-50s, and this is his first album to gain a national release. Hand clearly has been battling demons in his past, and that comes through in his songs, but this was far from a downer of a set.

Hand sings real well and dished out a host of strong songs, many from the new disc, "The Truth Will Set You Free!," starting and for some reason closing the regular set with the lead-off tonker "Baby, Baby, Don't Tell Me That."

Hand also possesses quite a keen sense of humor, which comes through time and again. In introducing "When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I," Hand said, "This song I wrong here didn't help me get any younger." On the other hand, Hand clearly was quite appreciative of the strong response he deserved from the crowd.

Hand also was aided by a stellar backing and of Will Indian on electric guitar, Speedy Sparks on bass and Rusty Travis on drums. They looked like veterans, but played with a real sense of new found inspiration.

Tossing an odd couple together doesn't always work, but on this evening, doing so with Hand and Nugent made very fine music.