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Three Girls carry on without their Buddy

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, February 22, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The marquee outside proclaimed "Three Girls" as the act playing the theatre. That was not the game plan. Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin, unfortunately, were without their Buddy. And while they overcame the absence of ace guitarist Buddy Miller due to a heart attack suffered Friday night after a show in Baltimore, it was a shame that fans could not hear one of the most sharp, economical country/rootsy guitarists out there.

The resplendent Harris, looking great as usual in a pinkish coat and gray hair, lamented from the get go that their friend was not with them on this night. And in a fitting tribute to the affable Miller, the girls sang To Know Him Is To Love Him with Harris assuming the lead vocals and Griffin and Colvin on backing vocals. This set the table for the rest of the 130-minute show, meaning an enjoyable evening of music pleasant to the ears with good stories and humor to boot.

They did the show as a traditional guitar pull, meaning that Harris, for example, would introduce the song she was about to sing and kick it off with acoustic guitar in hand while all three sat almost the entire night. Griffin and Colvin usually both would lend their voices to the song. This was no scripted show with any kind of stage antics or set list. Sometimes, the singers did not know for sure what song they would perform next.

At 61, Harris showed zero signs of slowing down. If anything, she seemed to get better with age, kind of like the venerable old timer up there with her two younger cohorts a decade each apart perhaps appreciating what they have to look forward to. She offered a fine reading of Merle Haggard's Kern River from her most recent disc, "All I Intended To Be."

Griffin offered the most diversity of the three. She turned it up a notch on several occasions. Interestingly, Griffin, whose acclaim keeps rising, said her next disc would be a gospel album with Miller helping on production from a self-proclaimed "lapsed Catholic" this summer. She turned in a very pleasant Wade in the Water from the disc. Griffin has a gorgeous voice, different than Harris' angelic sounds, but nearly as compelling.

Colvin, who has not been particularly prolific this decade, gave a heartfelt reading of Gram Parson's Hickory Wind," later in the show, saying, "When I'm homesick, this is the song I like to do. I owe it all to Em and Gram." (Harris and Parsons had at least a professional relationship). Colvin was more the contemporary folkie compared to her compadres, a little lower key, less humorous, but she, too, sang very well.

Harris et al endured a lively crowd with frequent shot outs for songs and one person even asking if Colvin was playing a "John Mayer Signature guitar" (She was although Colvin said the Shawn Colvin guitar was right behind her). These types of comments caused Harris to comment what a smart crowd this was. In reality, it was hard to tell sometimes if the performers appreciated the flow of comments or felt it was distracting, but at least the audience listened and cared what they were hearing.

To their credit, Harris and Griffin in particular played to the hometown crowd. Yet, unlike so many other musicians who give false shout outs to the Red Sox to elicit cheers, Griffin actually lived here for 10 years. Harris is a self-proclaimed baseball junkie and said she had been to Fenway Park many times.

The concert was not geared for lots of highs and lows given that it moved from one performer to the next. And the length was just about right considering that Griffin offered the most diversity with Harris and Colvin tending to be more even tempo throughout. Maybe Miller would have offered a greater diversity. Still, Harris, Griffin and Colvin were at the top of their game, making for a most satisfying evening, even without their Buddy.