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Stone River Boys use experience to their advantage

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., October 27, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Stone River Boys may be a new band when it comes to recording and touring, but make no mistake, these are no rookies.

The band is ostensibly Dave Gonzalez on lead guitar and occasional lead vocals and Mike Barfield on lead vocals. Gonzalez's resume includes heading up rootsy/rockabilly band The Paladins and The Hacienda Brothers, the band also featuring the late Chris Gaffney. Barfield was best known as the leader of the Texas honky tonk band The Hollisters. The group released their debut "Love on the Dial" earlier this year on Cow Island Music, the excellent Northampton, Mass.-based country and roots label.

What Gonzalez and Barfield created was a band that alternated between traditional country starting with the lead-off song Specialand bluesy, soulful songs. That should not be a surprise given the backgrounds of the players. When the group got soulful, one suspected that they attended the School of Dan Penn.

Barfield's top-notch vocals were delivered with a bit of a drawl (Lovers Prison), with his vocals easily heard above the mix. Gonzalez's singing proved more soulful and a bit more limited, but he was up to snuff (Midnight Dream, a Hacienda Brothers song and one of several played during the 100-minute show).

Besides the main players, this also was a veteran band with the remaining three musicians sounding like they played because they wanted to be there. Drummer Mark Patterson and bassist Scott Esbeck combined for an active rhythm section. Gary Newcomb was stellar on pedal steel, time and again playing a prominent role and making that instrument sing.

SRB didn't bother rushing the songs along. Just the opposite as many tended to stretch out giving the band a chance to play and the songs reach their natural conclusion (for the most part) without padding them. Still, one would have liked to hear more than about half of the 14 songs on the disc.

The band very occasionally got funky, and while it was easy to get into the groove of the closing song The Struggle, the sound didn't fit with the rest of the evening and came off as being disjointed. Yes, they had the chops to pull it off, but SRB ought to stick to its meat and potatoes.

Stone River Boys ended the night with a great example of Texas honky tonk, East Texas Pines, from The Hollisters. Gonzalez and Newcomb played key roles in giving the song much vitality.

"Love on the Dial" did not exactly capture Stone River Boys as well as a live gig does. The talent and drive of the band were apparent in concert. After all, Gonzalez, Barfield and company certainly were not wet behind the ears and used that all to their advantage. And ours.

Local band Erin Sharpe & The Delta Swingers opened with a very engaging set of Delta and country blues. Good singing. Good songs. Good band. Sharpe and company were most entertaining.