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Big Surprise is no surprise - Old Crow et al sound just fine

House of Blues, Boston, August 5, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The tour may be called The Big Surprise Tour, but with only one night together under their belt, about the only surprise from the rootsy acts Old Crow Medicine Show, the David Rawlings Machine, Justin Townes Earle and The Felice Brothers was how cohesive the bands were in a night of shifts and turns.

The whole ensemble appeared together at the start of the show with the Felice Brothers, a New York, heavily Dylan-influenced band taking lead.

Throughout the night, the performers came and went doing their own sets, often with help from a few member of other bands. This was a free flowing night of music that recalled the Rolling Thunder Revue of Bob Dylan in the 1970's.

The Felice Brothers started the night off with a rougher sounding set that was more on the alt.-country side of the music. Lead singer Ian Felice sings with a sense of passion, although his voice was not particularly strong. He also seemed to worship at the Temple of Dylan when it came to vocals. There was a bit of a rough quality to the sonics of the Felices - not necessarily a bad thing - but their songs also did not have the impact of their fellow tour mates.

Earle seemed very comfortable with a less is more approach to the music. He honed a combo of country, blues and rootsy sounds. The lone and lanky son of Steve had no problem filling the hall. He has certainly grown as a performer and seemed comfortable in his biggest show in the Boston area.

Looking dapper in a suit and short hair, Earle was aided often by his sidekick Cory Younts, who played mandolin and added a musical spark to the festivities.

The David Rawlings Machine was perhaps a bit misnamed. Rawlings, of course, is the musical sidekick to Gillian Welch. Here, she is his musical sidekick, though definitely more in the background.

Machine gives this a sense of being hard-edged. Well, his sound was not that exactly, but what it did showcase was Rawlings being capable of being the lead man. This really was a separate entity from a Welch show. For starters, he was decked out in jeans and a blue shirt, instead of his usual suit. He sang fine, with a drawl, at times. His playing was superb as usual, often with a harder edge than when he plays with Welch. She was almost always helped out on backing vocals or harmonies.

Rawlings sang with a lot of confidence and delivered a stellar set.

He set the stage for the headliners, Old Crow Medicine Show. This proved to be a band that has grown into a strong concert outfit. Four of the five band members take lead vocals with lead singer Ketch Secor being the main front man. He sang extremely well and his fiddle playing proved powerful in spicing up the songs time and again.

But the wealth was definitely spread with his band mates also taking a turn at lead or through their playing.

The evening was a bit rough and tumble at times and definitely sounding right, perhaps never more so than during the encore where all the players were out there for their take on AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll). This was not exactly what fans would have expected from such a gathering.

Maybe that's what The Big Surprise was because otherwise this was a quality of high evening sounds.