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John Cowan refuses to mail in performance

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., March 8, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The arrival of John Cowan of Newgrass Revival fame coming into the Boston area was a rare occurrence, but, unfortunately, few showed up to hear the ace bluegrasser.

Maybe 50 people came to hear Cowan, touring behind his strong recent album on Pinecastle, "New Tattoo." That's too bad because Cowan put on a sturdy show over the course of two sets.

This wasn't a concert based on flash, but, instead, steady competency. Cowan mixed it up between bluegrass, Irish songs, traditional songs like "Sally Goodin'" and gospel where Cowan showcased his high sounding vocals. He also didn't particularly focus on songs from "New Tattoo."

Cowan employs a good band behind him and was content to highlight them, including Jeff Autry on acoustic guitar. Autry sang lead on a few songs to good effect, including Dave Alvin's "King of California." Wayne Benson, who used to be with iiird Tyme Out, is stellar on mandolin. He led the charge on the closing, fast-paced "Rawhide," one of several instrumentals performed.

Noam Pikelny used to play banjo for the group until joining Chris Thile about eight months ago, but Tony Wray ably filled in the slot. By day, he works for the Gibson guitar company in Nashville. With a bit more seasoning on the road, he may forgo the day job. Shad Cobb also turned in a good performance on fiddle.

Cowan and company fortunately weren't distracted by the small crowd. Nor did they mail in their performance. It's the loss of those who weren't there to hear an important figure in modern bluegrass.